Froma Harrop - Get government out of marriage altogether

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must recognize same-sex marriages, dissenting Chief Justice John Roberts wondered whether polygamy will be next. Some legal scholars have responded that yes, the arguments for gay marriage could apply to relationships among more than two partners, as well. William Baude, a law professor at the University of Chicago, wrote, "By those lights, groups of adults who have profound polyamorous attachments and wish to build families and join the community have a strong claim to a right to marry."

There's a more basic question here: Why is government in the business of conferring a right to marry at all? What is it about this thing called marriage that justifies a grab bag of legal benefits? That would include tax advantages, inheritance rights, hospital visitations and the ability to make end-of-life decisions for one's spouse.

The recent Supreme Court case disposed of the idea that only a man and woman can provide a stable home for children. Many gay couples do a better job of raising children than some heterosexual pairings. And in any case, children have never been a requirement for marriage.

Baude inadvertently points to the illogic of tying any benefits to state-sanctioned marriage by using the word "polyamorous" in referring to polygamous relationships.

Merriam-Webster defines polyamory as "the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time." It makes no sense that having a romance (or two or three) should entitle one to leave an estate to a partner tax-free or get in on another's company health plan.

We can be totally in tune with the notion that such benefits help families. And we can agree that children tend to be better off in households headed by devoted parents.

Marriage is a wonderful institution, but it does not follow that government should be defining it. Let ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and ship captains tie the marital knot. And have government recognize civil unions only.
Civil unions need not be between romantic partners. The pairing could be close friends, cousins, office mates. And of course, it could be a church-sanctioned spouse.

Sorry, polygamists, only one civil union partner at a time. If your lawyers should design plausible legal group arrangements, we'll reconsider.

At the time of the high court's decision, Roberts opined that "people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today." In an ideal world, the opposite would be true. Religious authorities would have greater control over the terms of holy matrimony. They would control the definition of marriage and decide whom they will or will not join. More than one clergyman has confided to me that he would just as soon not be conferring legal benefits when he marries people.

The Catholic Church does not countenance divorce, and an annulment is difficult to get. The church makes its rules. Other faiths make their rules according to their creeds. The state should have no business here.

If a couple want to register their silver pattern and have a guru marry them at dawn on Mount Tamalpais, that should be their choice. If they want to be partnered with the legal rights of a civil union, as well, they should be able to find a bureaucrat in downtown San Rafael to do the paperwork.

Everyone would win. People of faith could continue to enter into marriages with, if anything, more powerful rules. Those wanting a less intensely religious union could get one. And best of all, we would end the odd custom whereby government grants financial and emotional advantages on the basis of an implied romance.

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

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Bob Meade - Return the government to the people

The Federal Government has ceased functioning as the founders intended. There has been disrespect for the separation of powers, and state's rights have been usurped by the federal government. Federal bureaucracies have grown out of control and, in a number of cases, have disregarded and/or stonewalled the oversight requests of Congress. Some agencies have abused their powers and grossly intimidated, and denied citizens their legal rights. Numerous attempts have been made to bypass or alter the rights guaranteed to the citizens in the Constitution.

Those candidates, who desire to attain the office of the President of the United States, should make a compact with the people to work diligently to return the government to them. In doing so, the following five areas are a few of the things that should be part of that compact:

1. Restructure the federal bureaucracies
— Review each department to determine if its existence complies with the Constitution, or if the department's function usurps the rights of the states, or if it has failed to meet the objectives for which it was established. If it is found that the department fails in those areas it should be eliminated.
— Strong consideration should be given to eliminating the Internal Revenue service, and its over 95,000 employees, replacing it with a consumption tax, a flat tax, or some other simple and fair tax measure.
— Eliminate collective bargaining for federal unions and enact the laws necessary to be able to terminate the employment of federal workers who have breached their trust or have abused the citizens they were supposed to serve.
— Transition federal workers to pension plans that are more like those in the private sector, where both the employee and the employer contribute to the plan, the employee is "vested" and has ownership that can be carried forward to other employment positions.
2. Eliminate the "professional" politicians
— Put forth a constitutional amendment to limit the number of terms for House of Representative members. Either include limiting the terms of Senators in that amendment or consider repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment so as to return to the various state legislatures the responsibility to appoint their senators.
3. Propose and enact the laws necessary to have any "regulations" issued by a federal department, if they are to have the "force of law", to first be approved by the Congress and signed by the president.
4. Recognize that Congress has not issued a declaration of war since World War II, and it has therefore left the decision to make undeclared war up to the Executive Branch. Take the steps necessary to enact a law or institute a constitutional amendment so that the decisions to engage in "limited military confrontations" or full scale war are made by the Congress.
— Such law or Amendment shall require that the president, as commander in chief, at such times as the Congress makes a decision to initiate a confrontation or war, will direct the military to the successful completion of the confrontation or war as specified by the Congress.
— Such law shall give the Congress the power of review, requiring that the commander in chief, or his senior military commanders, shall provide the Congress with full and accurate briefings on the status of the confrontations or wars, and of the strategies and tactics yet to be employed.
— Such status reports to the Congress shall allow the commander in chief or his senior commanders to advise the Congress of their resource needs, and it shall be incumbent on the Congress to either provide for those needs, or to modify their confrontation or war decision.
— After thorough and thoughtful review, if the Congress determines that the duties of commander in chief are not being met in a satisfactory way, the amendment must have a provision allowing for a new commander in chief to be named by the Congress.
— If the Congress determines the president has otherwise not committed any impeachable offenses, the president shall remain in office and fulfill the other duties of the office, but shall not direct the military.
5. Restore the sovereignty of our country by controlling the entry of non-citizens at our borders.
— Implement an effective method of controlling the nation's borders.
— Implement an effective method of tracking those who enter the country on visas, so as to ensure that those who overstay their visa may be found and deported.
— Eliminate so called "sanctuary cities".
— Develop and implement an effective plan to monitor those companies that are most likely to employ undocumented laborers, and impose sufficient penalties to inhibit such employment.
— Develop and implement a guest worker program with sufficient controls to ensure those workers return to their home countries at the appropriate time.

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)

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DuBois — The Three Ponds Trail and beyond

The sign on the Kiosk at the trailhead reads, "Welcome to the quieter corner of the White Mountains. The Three Ponds Trail and the surrounding area offers, beauty, challenge and varied recreational opportunities." This yellow blazed trail serves as a gateway to other trails that lead to Carr Mountain (3,440), Mt Kineo (3313), the Hubbard Brook Trail and the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. The trail is accessed from Stinson Lake Road in the town of Rumney, 6.9 miles from Rt. 25 and 1.8 miles from the Stinson Lake General Store. The trail mostly follows old logging roads and recently constructed snow mobile trails.

On a lovely, warm and sunny day my wife Nancy decided to join me and Reuben (our dog) on a short 2.3 mile hike to the Three Ponds Shelter which sits above the largest of the three ponds the trail is named for. I have hiked this trail and the other connecting trails many times in the past and have always appreciated the solitude of the experience in a "quieter corner of the White Mountains."

We decided to only hike to Middle Pond and the shelter. However, for those who would like an easy 5 mi. day hike you can take the Three Ponds Trail, returning to the parking lot via the Donkey Hill Cut-Off and Mt. Kineo Trail. This mostly level loop will take you past scenic ponds, wetlands and an impressive waterfall.
If you are interested in a longer multiday hike of 20 miles take the Three Ponds Trail to the Hubbard Brook Trail returning to the parking lot via the Mt. Kineo Trail. Primitive campsites are available along the trail.

As we began our hike up a moderate grade I was reminded that this section of the trail as well as other sections were obliterated by Hurricane Irene in 2011. The US Forest Service had done a remarkable job in reconstructing the trail. I also reflected on the fact that Forest Service does a remarkable job in trail construction and maintenance, given their limited resources. It seems that over the course of several years Congress continues to cut funding for this agency, yet they are able manage The White Mountain National Forest for a variety of interests and needs.

At .1 mi. the Mt. Kineo Trail diverges to the right and at .5 mi. the Carr Mountain Trail cuts to the left. The Carr Mountain Trail leads to a side path gaining the summit of Carr Mt. at 2.9 mi. At the summit can be found the remains of an old fire tower. Sweeping views of the Baker River Valley can also be taken in by perching oneself on several rock outcrops. This trail continues north for 3 mi., ending at the NH Fish Hatchery in Warren.

Continuing along the Three Ponds Trails we encountered 2 inactive beaver ponds, and watched a flock of birds fluttering around the dead trees in the beaver bog. The world around us was full of life, yet we stood in the stillness and solitude that the trail offered that day. The trail meanders along the right side of Sucker Brook and further along the trail crosses the brook and runs along the left side of the trail. The brook is crystal clear with many deep holes for wading or swimming, which Reuben enjoyed doing several times. I also remarked to Nancy that the gentle sound of the brook is mesmerizing as we walked along in silence. Thanks to the local and state snow mobile organizations bridges provided safe and dry crossings for all streams. After a gradual climb of about 2 miles we began our descent to the largest of the three ponds, which are a string of beautiful mountain ponds surrounded by a number of mountains and ridges. At 2.3 on the south end of Middle Pond a side trail leads up to a six person shelter. While we sat on the shore and had our snack we noticed a canoe at the far end of the pond. It was probably a couple folks staying at the shelter and brought their canoe with them. While we were resting and enjoying the view we met our first fellow hikers, a family from Norwich, Connecticut enjoying the day as we were.

After our break we headed back down the trail to the parking lot. It was a leisurely walk mostly downhill to our waiting car. As we headed back down Stinson Lake Road toward Rumney, we considered stopping for coffee at the Common Tavern, but thought better of it as we needed to get home so we could finish daily chores. This half day adventure was a welcome respite from the tasks we encounter daily. We are so fortunate to live in the mountains of the Lakes Region.

Gordon has hiked extensively in Northern New England and the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. In 2011 he completed the Appalachian Trail (2,285 miles). He has also hiked the Long Trail in Vt., The International AT in Quebec, Canada, Cohos Trail in northern N.H. and the John Muir Trail in Calif. Gordon has summited the New Hampshire Hundred Highest peaks, and the New England Hundred Highest, 98 of these in winter. He spends much of his time hiking locally and in the White Mountains with his dog Reuben and especially enjoys hiking in the Lakes Region due to the proximity to his home in New Hampton. He is also a trail maintainer for the BRATTS (Belknap Range Trail Tenders) and can be found often exploring the many hiking trails in the area.

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Froma Harrop - The troubled young terrorist next door

The details about Mohammad Abdulazeez, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga grad accused of murdering four Marines and a sailor, dripped out in the familiar pattern. The first thing to come out of the shocking news is the name of the alleged attacker. Then there is speculation about what sick ideology may have inspired the horrendous act. And there are pictures of the comfy suburban nest the killer came from alongside interviews with baffled neighbors.

Finally comes the inside story bearing the inevitable headline, "Family Troubles Before Killings in Chattanooga." Abdulazeez's mother had tried to divorce the father in 2009, accusing him of abusing her and the children and planning to take a second wife, which he held would have been allowable under Islamic law. The parents reconciled, but that's a lot of craziness.

As for Mohammad, he was facing a court date for drunken driving and illegal drug use and had been fired from a job at a nuclear plant. A family spokesman said the 24-year-old had been fighting depression, pointing to mental illness as a possible cause.

It takes an extremely twisted personality — twisted for whatever combination of reasons — to shoot unarmed strangers, which the Marines and sailor were. So the terrorist needs a larger cause to hide behind.

It appears that Abdulazeez chose radical Islam as a cover for his personal disintegration — though investigators do not yet know whether organized Mideast terrorist groups got to him during a visit to Jordan.

Look at the back stories of other young men who committed or are accused of committing acts of terrorism in this country. The similarities are hard to ignore.

Consider Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old charged with massacring worshippers at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. His parents had gone through multiple divorces, and he had reportedly attended at least seven schools.

The kid was obviously unbalanced. He had previously dressed in black and asked creepy questions of workers at a mall. Police found drugs on him, and he was ordered to stay away from the shopping center. Quite the mess, Roof found grandiosity among the fumes of white supremacist ideology.

Adam Lanza was the 20-year-old who shot up an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, murdering 26, mostly children. He was mentally ill, beyond a doubt. But even more craziness reigned behind his freshly painted suburban front door. Lanza's mother was a gun nut who left weapons and ammunition lying around the house. He hadn't seen his father in two years.

Neighbors saw Lanza as "a little weird" but not homicidal, according to a New Yorker article. But psychiatrists observed a deeply disturbed individual, his feelings of worthlessness alternating with flashes of self-importance.

And although Lanza didn't seem glued to a particular ideology, the article did not hesitate to label him a terrorist: "Adam Lanza was a terrorist for an unknowable cause," it said.

About half of mass murderers kill themselves at the end. As a Harvard psychiatrist noted, they want to "end life early surrounded by an (aura) of apocalyptic destruction."

As such, Andreas Lubitz, the 27-year-old Germanwings co-pilot who crashed a planeload of passengers into a mountainside, could be called a terrorist, as well.

The question remains about what mix of toxic thinking and brain chemicals would motivate these people, all men in their 20s, to kill masses of unarmed innocents. And with that, we must wonder how much a role teachers of cracked belief systems play in causing such atrocities.

Do they create terrorists out of normal people, or do they provide the match that ignites walking tinderboxes of inner chaos? No easy answers are forthcoming.

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

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Susan Estrich - The failure of the insanity defense

Was James Holmes — convicted on Thursday of the 2012 massacre at the Aurora movie theatre — nuts?

Of course he was nuts. Does a sane person go into a movie theatre and just start shooting — not for a war or cause — for no reason at all? I mean, if he's not "insane," who is? Whether he should be held criminally responsible is an entirely different matter.

The insanity defense was one of the hottest, most debated issues in the law for decades, liberalized in many courts, notably D.C's, in a movement to provide treatment and not punishment to the mentally ill. After John Hinckley, who had been charged with shooting President Reagan, successfully used the insanity defense, it came up against a counter-reform movement.

In the reform days, the question was supposed to be simplified to asking the jury whether the conduct was the product of a mental disease or defect, with courts consulting experts to make these determinations.

Which led, of course, to dueling experts (the defense called four in the Aurora case). The simple test was actually not so simple. What does it mean to be the "product" of mental disease? Does it mean that if James Holmes weren't psychotic, he wouldn't have done this? As to whether the guy suffers from a disease or defect, can there really be any disagreement?

But that can't be enough; honestly, it never could be. If you've ever hung around the criminal courts for any period, you'll run into a lot of people who just aren't right in some rather significant way. And I'll admit that my first instinct upon encountering such a person, particularly if he happens to be in shackles, is not to hope that enough attention is given to his tragic upbringing or fragile psyche or even those brain lesions we might someday see or the genetic marker for violence that might someday be identified — my instinct is to hope that he gets what's due him and to sit far away in the courtroom. Real far away.
So in practice, because conditions in state mental hospitals in many places compare poorly with all but the worst jails, and since fronting a successful defense requires money for experts, which is something most of these guys in shackles don't have, the insanity defense doesn't get used very much. And the way the instructions to the jury are written now, "sanity" — by the way, "insanity" and "sanity" are not medical diagnoses, just legal constructions — requires only that you know the difference between right and wrong. Holmes' secrecy and preparation before the attacks would satisfy that criterion. Almost anything would be enough to satisfy that criterion.

Was anyone really holding her breath about what the verdict would be? Not exactly an O.J. moment. You go to the movies on a Friday night in suburbia, or your kids do, and you do not expect — and our society cannot tolerate — fear and the threat of violence. We don't want to live that way, and whether it deters one person or not, this guy is certainly not going to "get away with it" in the state hospital.

So why keep that legal defense on the books? Some people say we shouldn't. It persists, I think, not because it offers a real "out" but precisely because it doesn't. Even at the height of reform, there was a fair amount of evidence that the exact words of the instructions actually didn't matter very much to jurors.

But the fact that we recognize such a defense speaks to how our system, as an essential element of its fairness, punishes people not for bad luck but for bad choices — even if those bad choices are conditioned by the usual list of deprivations, or the more scientifically phrased ones tossed out by the paid experts. Most people with all those same deprivations manage to control themselves, and, if they can't, it is precisely such people who society must control. The insanity defense is, as one of my old colleagues (who taught a course on law and psychiatry) used to call it, "A pimple on the nose of the law."

(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)

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