Incompetent Elected Official of the Week: Rhode Island State Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt

Funny, she doesn't LOOK vicious...

The Penn State scandal will have one good effect: it will embolden victims of sexual  molestation to confront those who harmed them. Unfortunately, it will also embolden political grand-standers  to propose draconian and unconstitutional measures that will encourage fear, bigotry, hate and persecution.  Rhode Island’s Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, D-Woonsocket, is ready for her close-up.

Baldelli-Hunt proposed a law this year that would allow local police to place signs on public sidewalks or streets in front of the homes of sex offenders, designating them as threats. This shows a nice 17th Century strain, placing her in the ranks of town elders of the past that encouraged various forms of branding former offenders to ensure their perpetual mistreatment.  To give her credit, though, she also can claim international inspiration from the past, and may want to consider requiring registered sex offenders to wear, say, brightly colored star-shaped badges.

The Anti-Golden Rule logic of such a proposal is stunning: how would you like a sign proclaiming the worst thing you ever did in your life in front of your home? How would Baldelli-Hunt like a sign in front of her house that says, “Outspoken endorser of persecution and hate”?

An elected official who has no concept of ethics is not only unqualified for office and incompetent, but dangerous, because there are always a lot of ethically-challenged people to lead. Baldelli-Hunt is squarely in the “the ends justify the means” camp with every brutal dictator, vigilante killer, and mad scientist fictional and real, from Dr. Frankenstein to Josef Mengele. “I have some concerns regarding sex offenders because, quite frankly, they don’t walk around with signs telling people they are sex offenders,” Baldelli-Hunt told reporters. “I’m not interested in their rights or protecting them. I have no concern for them because they are the worst of the worst.”

Baldelli doesn’t walk around with signs telling people she is a vicious fool, either, but her words do the job:

1. She doesn’t know who “they” are or what “they” did. The vast majority of former sex offenders have paid their debt to society and are not dangers to anyone. She is, therefore, selling and facilitating bigotry.

2. Every registered sex offender did not commit an offense of equal seriousness. An 18-year-old boy who has consensual sex with a 15 year-old girl is not “the worst of the worst,” or any kind of worst at all.

3. Elected officials in a community are obligated to care about every citizen’s rights, not just the citizens they like and admire. Officials like Baldelli-Hunt brought America witch trials, lynchings and segregation.

She, in fact, is this worst of the worst.

Consider this her sign.


George Washington’s Vision of Religious Freedom

George Washington continues to be a source of wonder, wisdom, and ethical clarity.

Every year in August, Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island hosts a reading of President George Washington’s 1790 letter to “the Hebrew congregation in Newport, Rhode Island.” Before this month, I was unaware of either the celebration or the letter, I am ashamed to say. In it, the first President laid out clearly the ideals of religious freedom to be embraced by our fledgling nation, to a group that had reason to do doubt whether they would be welcome to worship as they pleased.

For generations, the Hebrew community that ultimately  settled in Newport had been fleeing religious persecution. The same year Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World, in 1492, Spain enacted a policy forcing Jews to convert to Christianity or leave the country. Thousands sought refuge in the Netherlands, the Caribbean Islands and South America, only to be pursued by the Spanish Inquisition. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: Sen. Kerry’s Critics

Hypocrisy, unfairness…pick your own adjective for Republican and conservative attacks on Sen. John Kerry for saving himself some money by docking his $7 million yacht in Rhode Island, where he could avoid Massachusetts’ s $435,000 one-time tax and an additional $70,000 in excise taxes every year. Incredibly, talk show host Sean Hannity just called Kerry a “tax cheat,” although Kerry is breaking no laws, has no obligation to make sure his home of Massachusetts gets all of his tax money, and is doing what all wealthy Americans—usually championed by Hannity and others as those who create jobs and make the country prosperous—do: using  available loopholes, safe harbors and tax minimization methods to hold on to as much money as he can. Continue reading

Remembering Ted Kennedy Fairly

Today, on the Sunday before the new year, the New York Times Magazine has its annual issue of brief profiles of famous, important, and not-so-famous-but-still-important people who breathed their last in the past twelve months. It is always a fascinating collection; for me, the exercise is a slap in the face, focusing my wandering attention upon how many remarkable lives and achievements have escaped my awareness and proper appreciation—and this is only a small, random collection. The last of the profiles, however, was about a life I knew a lot about: Ted Kennedy. In my view, the piece fails an ethical imperative. It doesn’t mention Mary-Jo Kopechne. Continue reading