Monday, August 31, 2009

Mises, Human Action and Economic Calculation

Six decades ago Ludwig von Mises published his masterpiece, Human Action, and it grows in importance. I was unaware of the book’s existence and its timeless truths through my formative years, but one of Mises’ students, William Peterson, introduced it to me in 1980, and I forever will be grateful.

Because Human Action covers a vast amount of intellectual territory, I will deal only with economic calculation. If there is a Misesian term to which I return again and again, it is “economic calculation,” for that term explains why socialism is fated to fail – always.

Mises dealt with economic calculation at length in Socialism, which he published in the early 1920s, and he returns to the theme again in Human Action, and his points are well-taken. At the time he wrote these books, American, British, and European intellectuals had fallen in love with state-run centralized economic planning. People who should have known better had convinced themselves that the U.S.S.R. had created a paradise via central planning in which all people would prosper, or at least have all their needs met.

Most advocates of socialism believed that improvements in technology had made market economies obsolete, and that economic planners would match technology to scientific knowledge and, Voila!, a prosperous economy would rise from the mix. Mises knew better, and while the “great minds” of the time believed that Oskar Lange had “beaten” Mises in the famous “Socialist Calculation Debates” of the 1930s and 1940s, nonetheless it was Mises who prevailed in the end.

Mises noted that production of goods is not a technological activity, fundamentally speaking, but rather an activity that is economic in scope. He writes in Human Action:

…most means are not absolutely specific; most of them are fit for various purposes. The facts that there are different classes of means, that most of the means are better suited for the realization of some ends, less suited for the attainment of some other ends and absolutely useless for the production of a third group of ends, and that therefore the various means allow for various uses, set man the task of allocating them to those employments in which they can render the best service. Here computation in kind as applied by technology is of no avail. Technology operates with countable and measurable quantities of external things and effects; it knows causal relations between them, but it is foreign to their relevance to human wants and desires. (p. 207)

In other words, technology is a servant of economic activity, not its master. The decisions as to what should be produced, who should produce it, how it should be produced, and who receives the product are determined via a system of prices and private property. However, Mises added one more important point that often is lost in the discussion: economic calculation depends upon profits and losses.

Profits and losses, Mises noted, direct production by demonstrating where resources are most highly valued. If one can take a present-day example, it has been with the meltdown of financial markets on Wall Street. By bailing out firms that directed hundreds of billions of dollars into dead-end investments, the government has interfered with the allocation of capital and has forced markets to place higher “values” on inferior uses of resources, all because politicians have ordered these things.

As I recently pointed out, profits are the reward for entrepreneurs who have directed resources to their highest-valued uses, and a profit system not only is appropriate for medical care, but it is mandatory if we want high-quality care to be made available to as many people as possible. Profits are not an “added cost” to production and distribution of goods; they are a means by which entrepreneurs efficiently use resources.

Mises noted that profits and losses enable entrepreneurs to engage in the necessary economic calculation needed for an economy to meet the needs and wants of people. What he wrote 60 years ago is just as relevant today as it was then, even if policymakers are as deaf and blind today as they were in 1949.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hi! I’m an Evangelical With the U.S. Department of Justice, and I’m Here to Lie to You

You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.

~ John 8:44
(New American Bible)

As one who has written continuously about federal criminal law and prosecutorial abuse, I rarely find myself surprised by anything that the minions of the misnamed U.S. Department of Justice do or say. The DOJ is populated with people for whom truth has taken a permanent vacation, and I doubt seriously that the situation will change just because there is a new attorney general.

However, a recent article about the overturning of a criminal conviction in federal court has managed to surprise me, if only to be amazed at the sheer hubris by DOJ personnel. Indeed, at a federal appeals court hearing, a DOJ official openly admitted that she and her colleagues presented a false case – and clearly was proud of it. Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal writes about the overturning of a conviction of a former CEO:

In a final indignity, after Mr. (Greg) Reyes's conviction, the government admitted it knew its central contention was false, thanks to numerous, immunized statements from finance department officials. As Justice official Amber Rosen told the appeals panel in oral argument this past May: "Defendants aren't entitled to a perfect trial. . . . Misstatements happen."

"Misstatements happen." Rosen knew and pretty much admitted that she and her colleagues knew that they were lying in court, lying to a judge, lying to a jury, lying to the public, lying to everyone. Nothing will happen to her, and nothing will happen to her fellow prosecutors, who most likely will retry Reyes not because he is guilty of anything, but rather because they can do it, and since they openly admit they are liars, they pretty much have the run of the store.

The case against Reyes involved backdating of stock options, a common business practice that federal prosecutors suddenly decided to criminalize as part of its crusade to create new and draconian "economic crimes." The feds were trying to claim that Reyes had misled his colleagues, but the government’s actions clearly were at odds with itself. Jenkins writes:

Never mind that this story flew in the face of the publicly known facts or that the government's sole witness, a junior finance department official, later recanted, saying she had been bullied by prosecutors. Hilariously, even as Justice argued in one courtroom that Brocade's finance department had been kept "in the dark" about backdating, the SEC was simultaneously impaling two former heads of Brocade's finance department for aiding, abetting and benefiting from backdating.

So, it has come to this: federal prosecutors now openly admit to appeals judges that they knowingly presented a false case, lied to everyone, and that such lying just "happens." I would like to know how people who claim to be against lies have turned into liars themselves. Unfortunately, I believe I have discovered one piece of this puzzle, and it involves people who openly claim to be Evangelical Christians and at least some of the culprits have held high church office.

I will deal only with three people, but they have been influential. The first is John Ashcroft, who was the federal government’s attorney general during George W. Bush’s first term. I have covered Ashcroft’s lies and shenanigans in articles here, here, and dealt with the general culture of DOJ lying here. (The last article also deals with an incident involving current AG Eric Holder, so the beat goes on.)

Ashcroft was one who wore his Christianity on his sleeve, but made sure that his Christian beliefs never interfered with his lying. The second person is the former U.S. Attorney for Eastern Virginia, Paul J. McNulty, who also served as the number two person in the DOJ until he resigned after having misled Congress regarding the firing of some U.S. attorneys, a case that still has some traction.

The impeccable libertarian writer James Bovard already has dealt with many of McNulty's actions in his book, Terrorism and Tyranny, and Bovard's accounts of McNulty's "misstatements" are worth reading. As the chief federal prosecutor on terrorism cases, he had his hand in the infamous "Lackawanna Six" case, one that Judge Andrew Napolitano condemned as being the product of DOJ lawbreakers. McNulty also pursued the infamous "paintball terrorists" case in which people were railroaded into prison although no supposed "terrorist plot" ever was discovered.

One of McNulty’s most egregious cases involved the prosecution of physician William Hurwitz, a pain medication specialist accused of (in McNulty’s words) being a "major and deadly drug dealer." Because McNulty’s district has lots of government employees and generally produces pro-government juries, gaining a conviction, even in a case fraught with questions, was relatively easy. Writes Jacob Sullum:

The prosecutors did not dispute that Hurwitz had helped hundreds of patients recover their lives by prescribing the high doses of narcotics they needed to control their chronic pain. Instead they pointed to the small minority of his patients – 5 to 10 percent, by his attorneys' estimate – who were misusing the painkillers he prescribed, selling them on the black market, or both.

The prosecutors did not claim Hurwitz, who faces a possible life sentence, got so much as a dime from illegal drug sales. Instead they pointed to his income as a physician, which they said was boosted by fees from patients who were faking or exaggerating their pain.

The prosecutors did not allege that Hurwitz had any sort of explicit arrangement with those patients. Instead they described a "conspiracy of silence," carried out by "a wink and a nod."

The evidence supporting this theory was, not surprisingly, ambiguous at best, leaving plenty of room for reasonable doubt. Yet the prosecutors got the jury to overlook the obvious weaknesses in their case and convict Hurwitz, in essence, of trusting his patients too much.

Indeed, as Harvey Silverglate writes in his newest book, Three Felonies a Day, the Hurwitz conviction ultimately meant that doctors around the country became fearful of the very medications that alleviate pain, which meant that many Americans would suffer pain needlessly because Paul McNulty wanted a scalp.

Apparently, after his indictment, Hurwitz had agreed to turn himself in at the office of the U.S. Marshals. McNulty had other ideas, having his own storm troopers burst into Hurwitz’s home, and having him manhandled in front of his wife and children. This was not done just to humiliate and bully Hurwitz, although it is clear McNulty enjoyed the bullying; indeed, another reason was so that McNulty could make the false claim at the sentencing hearing that Hurwitz was "uncooperative" upon his arrest. (This is a common tactic among federal prosecutors, and one more example of the Culture of Lying that now owns that agency.)

The reason that I bring in McNulty is twofold. First, as both the lead federal prosecutor on "terrorism" issues and as the number two at DOJ, McNulty was in a key position to affect DOJ culture and to insist upon honesty. The reason I make that point is that, second, McNulty is a ruling elder in a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America, the same Evangelical denomination to which my family and I belong.

Unfortunately, instead of helping to bring honesty and decency to the DOJ, McNulty chose to further the same Culture of Lying that Bill Moushey exposed more than a decade ago in his award-winning series, "Win at All Costs." Instead of integrity, the DOJ under McNulty’s leadership went into the direction that ultimately resulted in the dishonest and cynical testimony: "Misstatements happen."

Like Ashcroft, McNulty wears his Christianity on his sleeve, and both were featured positively in the Evangelical magazine, World. (World even gave Ashcroft its "Daniel of the Year" award in 2001.) Another federal prosecutor who openly promotes his Christian beliefs is Matt Martens, an assistant U.S. attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Martens, a deacon and a Baptist lay preacher, was the lead prosecutor against Victoria Sprouse, whose case I have documented here and here. In this case, Martens knew that one of his "star" witnesses had sworn under oath in a civil case that Sprouse was innocent of any fraud and was unaware of fraud being committed in real estate deals for which she was the closing attorney.

However, Martens had charged the witness with fraud, but offered him a deal of serving only two years in prison if he would testify that Sprouse knew that there was fraud on her part. The thing to remember is that when the witness swore under oath several years before, he was not under duress nor forced to exchange testimony for a reduced prison sentence.

Thus, when a man completely changes his testimony on a witness stand in order to help a prosecutor fit his own "theory" of what happened, I am going to be very skeptical. Furthermore, Martens and other prosecutors should be reminded that their job is not to win, but to do justice.

As I documented in the second article on the Sprouse case, Martens lied to a judge in order to ensure that Sprouse’s original attorney would not be able to stay on her defense team:

It is important to understand, however, that the outcome was fixed long before the trial, and not by any criminal or regulatory violations on behalf of Sprouse. Martens arranged for the government to forbid Sprouse from selling, disposing, or mortgaging any of her property in order to raise money to pay for her attorney, Pete Anderson. Because all her assets were forbidden to be sold or mortgaged she did not have any other funds by which to pay, the judge declared her "indigent" and then permitted a maximum of $25,000 for her legal fees.

The prosecution’s strategy was obvious. If Sprouse could be denied adequate counsel, as $25K is not going to buy anything more than an attorney who wants to plead out right away, then a conviction was as good as done.

What happened afterward is most important – and sealed the outcome. Anderson told the judge at a hearing in which she petitioned to have one of her properties sold so she could raise legal fees that he still wanted to represent Sprouse, given his knowledge of the case. That is where Martens dropped a bombshell.

Martens told the judge that it would take four-to-six weeks to present the government’s case. Anderson argued that since it would take his firm five months to prepare for trial with another month to six weeks in a trial would mean his firm would have to spend six months for a relatively tiny fee, which the firm could not afford. Thus, he begged off the case and the judge appointed two attorneys who then tried to force Sprouse to plea to a deal that would have given her 20 years. Sprouse, believing she had not committed any crimes and wanting her Constitutional day in court, refused, and from then on, she and her counsel were at odds.

There are a number of reasons why this development was significant, and why Martens had orchestrated it. First, and most important, when Martens actually presented the "evidence" during the trial, he took less than four days. One does not boil four-to-six weeks of material into four days; instead, Martens – an officer of the court and one who is bound to tell the truth while carrying out his duties – had not told the judge the truth.

Unfortunately, like Ashcroft and McNulty before him, Martens is not a man of the truth. Like Ashcroft and McNulty, Martens believes that the Bible in the inerrant and infallible Word of God. However, like Ashcroft and McNulty, he does not believe he is bound to the Holy Scriptures, at least when he is trying to railroad innocent people into prison. And like McNulty, Martens ordered Sprouse arrested at 6 a.m. at her home (after his storm troopers nearly broke down her front door) on the day that she already had agreed to turn herself in to the U.S. Marshals at 9 a.m. Like McNulty, Martens wanted to present a false picture of Sprouse being "uncooperative" with the authorities regarding her arrest if and when he secured a conviction.

Evangelicals like Ashcroft and others were quick to condemn Bill Clinton for his escapades and especially his lying. Indeed, Clinton became well-known for telling untruths and outright whoppers. Yet, what happened when a Republican government came on the scene, a government which was strongly influenced by those same Evangelicals who claimed to hate Clinton’s lies?

Well, they promoted lies. And nowhere was the Culture of Lying more pronounced than at the DOJ, where some of the leaders were people who claimed to be followers of the Prince of Peace, but, apparently decided instead to emulate the Father of Lies. Indeed, "misstatements happen," and they happen in large part because the very people who say they are Christians seem to believe that when one is working for the DOJ, the Ninth Commandment ("You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" which Roman Catholics regard as the Eighth Commandment) has been repealed.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Worst is Ahead of Us

The news that the jobless rate in this country has gone from 9.5 percent in June to 9.4 percent last month has led President Obama to declare that his policies have “saved the U.S. economy from catastrophe” and have led to another rally in the stock market. While I wish I could agree with the President – I really do wish that – I cannot do so, and I must say, “Not so fast, Mr. Obama.”

In fact, not only have Obama’s policies made this downturn worse, the policies have not yet begun to run their full course, and that means we have further to go before we hit bottom. I do not say this in any partisan spirit; indeed, I believe that the Obama policies pretty much are what John McCain would have done had he been elected.

No, the problem is not partisan politics; the problem is bad economic policy. Really bad economic policy.

Why am I saying this, given that it contradicts what many professional economists are claiming? For example, Joe Davis, chief economist at Vanguard in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, says:

It [the drop in the jobless rate] suggests the recession will be ending before the end of the year. There isn’t any part of the economy that hasn’t shown some slowing in deterioration.

I respectfully disagree, although I realize that people are not willing to pay me the large bucks that Davis earns for his prognostications. My reasoning is simple but forthright: The Obama administration continues to subsidize the weak sectors of the economy and punish the healthy sectors to pay for this largess. It is an unsustainable pattern. Furthermore, many of the worst aspects of his policies have not yet kicked in, and when they do, the damage will be severe.

First, we have to realize that the trends of mass layoffs had to end, albeit temporarily. Bankrupt Wall Street firms and General Motors already have shed huge numbers of workers and are having a lull, as the government bailout cash has stabilized these outfits – for the time being. There still are healthy firms out there, but they won’t be healthy for long, as the government is going to punish any company that is profitable with higher taxes, more onerous regulations, and other wealth-stunting.

Second, the effects of the environmental policies such as “cap and trade” and other new regulations have not yet been fully felt by U.S. employers. Don’t kid yourselves about how onerous these new laws and regulations are going to be. They will put many companies out of business, drive other business overseas, and add to our unemployed.

Don’t be fooled by the “millions of new green jobs” rhetoric coming from Congress and the New York Times. For every “green” job created by building windmills or other horse-and-buggy technology items, many regular jobs will be eliminated. If ever there were a Frédéric Bastiat “broken window” moment, it is found in the “green jobs” nonsense.

Third, increases in the minimum wage will take their toll on lower-wage workers, while other new labor and “workplace safety” policies are going to make it more costly to run a business. That will translate into layoffs soon enough.

Last, whether or not Obama’s health plan will pass Congress intact is irrelevant. The government is going to make medical care more costly, less available, and a greater financial burden on employers and employees. That is a given, and it also translates into higher rates of unemployment.

At best, the “stimulus” has created a lull in the downturn, an eye in the economic hurricane. There is nothing – I repeat, nothing – that the government has done in the past few years to alter the course of a real tragedy. From its expensive wars abroad to its multitrillion-dollar borrowing to the continued criminalization of routine business practices, the government has sent a message to private enterprise that it is the enemy. The rest of us will feel the blunt edge of government policy as we watch the economy implode.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Ultimate Prosecutorial Weapon: Honest Services Fraud

As one who has studied and written on federal criminal law for the past seven years, I have concluded that the ultimate goal for federal prosecutors is to be able to target anyone and charge him or her with a crime. I hardly am exaggerating, as the following article from Slate demonstrates:

At the federal prosecutor's office in the Southern District of New York, the staff, over beer and pretzels, used to play a darkly humorous game. Junior and senior prosecutors would sit around, and someone would name a random celebrity – say, Mother Theresa or John Lennon.

It would then be up to the junior prosecutors to figure out a plausible crime for which to indict him or her. The crimes were not usually rape, murder, or other crimes you'd see on Law & Order but rather the incredibly broad yet obscure crimes that populate the U.S. Code like a kind of jurisprudential minefield: Crimes like "false statements" (a felony, up to five years), "obstructing the mails" (five years), or "false pretenses on the high seas" (also five years). The trick and the skill lay in finding the more obscure offenses that fit the character of the celebrity and carried the toughest sentences. The result, however, was inevitable: "prison time."

Today, they have the weapons to do the preceding with ease, and the weapons are so powerful that I can guarantee that everyone reading this article is a felon. That’s right; you, too, are a criminal and if a federal prosecutor targets you, then you are going to prison.

You might not have robbed a bank or stolen anything, or engaged in any of the 10,000 "crimes" that federal prosecutors have in their buffet line, but I can guarantee that you are "guilty" of "honest services fraud." Have you ever taken a longer lunch break than what you are supposed to do? Have you ever made a personal phone call at work or done personal business on your employer’s computer? Have you ever had a contract dispute with an employer or a client? All of those things can be criminalized by an enterprising federal prosecutor.

If you are an attorney and have signed forms even though you have not read every word in them (for example, the standard closing documents for real estate), then you have committed "honest services fraud." The list goes on and on, but most likely by now you have the picture: you are guilty even if you never are placed in the dock in federal criminal court.

As one person intimately familiar with these kinds of prosecutions told me, "This is better than RICO," and the RICO statutes have proven to be one of the ultimate weapons used by federal prosecutors. Just the threat of invoking RICO can make even tough defendants turn into pliable putty ready to plead out instead of going to trial. Just ask Michael Vick.

Jeffrey Skilling right now is serving more than 20 years in prison, as the former Enron CEO was convicted of "honest services fraud." Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is under indictment for the "crime," and the feds currently are investigating the archdiocese under Catholic Bishop Roger Mahony to see if they can secure indictments under this statute. From former college basketball coaches to politicians, "honest services fraud" has become the ultimate prosecutorial weapon, and prosecutors are quick to declare their support for it. According to the Wall Street Journal:

…prosecutors love it. Patricia Pileggi, a former prosecutor who has brought honest-services fraud cases, says "since you don't have to prove loss of money, the statute is easier for prosecutors to use" than extortion or bribery statutes.

In fact, this particular law, first passed by Congress as an amendment to a wire and mail-fraud statute in 1988, allows federal prosecutor to do what prosecutors always have dreamed of doing: circumvent Constitutional protections against the accused by both creating what essentially are bills of attainder and ex post facto law. Let me explain.

First, and most important, the law itself is vague. According to the statute, Congress has criminalized "a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services," but how does one define "honest services"? And who is deprived?

Those questions are answered by prosecutors seeking indictments and convictions, and it is they who decide what is "criminal" and what is not. Although the question of guilt ultimately is supposed to be left to a jury, the very presence of such broadly-interpreted criminal laws with draconian penalties of 20 years or more in prison will lead many innocent people to plead out to something because the risk of going to trial is too great. Because federal prosecutors see their job as being a "hammer" and they see everyone else as a "nail," it is clear that the loose and vague language in the statute involving an "intangible right" to services of others is an open-ended invitation for prosecutors to craft charges around whatever alleged act they wish to criminalize, even if the act itself is legal. This is the very essence of a bill of attainder.

Second, because all-too-often an act is interpreted as being "criminal" after the fact, in essence, prosecutors are able to go back to an act that everyone believed to be legal and effectively apply a criminal statute to it. This is the essence of ex post facto law, which is unconstitutional. In a remarkable joint move by two ideologically-opposing groups, the Heritage Foundation and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers wrote in a February 11, 2009, letter to Congress that this law creates "a charter of authority for courts to decide, retroactively, what forms of unfair or questionable conduct in commercial, public and even private life should be deemed criminal."

There is another huge problem with this law (if we can dignify it as such by even calling it "law"): its vagueness and broad interpretation permits federal prosecutors to engage in tyrannical selective prosecution. When a law is so broad that nearly everyone who provides any services has broken it, then prosecutors are able to target people who might be politically unpopular.

For example, despite the fact that Jeffrey Skilling did not break the law by putting some of Enron’s assets in "special purpose entities," which were included in the company’s financial statements, nonetheless prosecutors were able to convince jurors that his actions were criminally fraudulent. Although Victoria Sprouse was not charged with "honest services fraud" when she recently was railroaded in federal court, nonetheless federal prosecutor Matt Martens told the jury that because she had admitted to not reading every word in every by-the-numbers legal document she signed, she had committed "honest services fraud."

Now, if someone like Martens wanted to launch prosecutions against professional people for not reading documents they sign, why is he not bringing criminal charges against members of Congress, who rarely read bills that either they approve or vote down? For example, John Conyers, D-Michigan, recently caused a stir when he admitted that he did not read bills before him. So, here is a lawmaker openly admitting that he does not read legislation, and he hardly is alone. (Few, if any, members of Congress read the Patriot Act or the Sarbanes-Oxley Act before approving them overwhelmingly.)

There is no substantive difference between what Martens deemed as "fraud" with Victoria Sprouse and what the nation’s elected representatives do every day they are in session. In fact, one could argue that at least Sprouse knew the substance of the documents before she signed; many senators and representatives cannot tell their constituents the content of the legislation before them. Yet, Sprouse is going to prison and members of Congress do not have to worry about prosecution (at least for violating that statute).

Journalist Gary S. Chafetz recently wrote about "honest services fraud," pointing out that even the language of the law itself is a fraud:

One of the cardinal rules of a grade-school vocabulary test is this: the word that the student must define cannot be used in its definition. However, honest-services fraud – "a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services" – is a term that no one seems able to define without using "honest-services" in its definition. Which a priori implies that because it cannot be defined, it is unconstitutionally vague.

This horrible law is 20 years old and only now is the U.S. Supreme Court even beginning to look seriously at it. The court has agreed to hear the appeal of recently-convicted media figure Conrad Black who is in prison after a federal jury convicted him of "honest services fraud." Unfortunately, I doubt the High Court will do anything to upset federal prosecutors, who pretty much own the federal "justice" (sic) system, lock, stock and barrel.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines "tyranny" as "oppressive power exerted by government." Indeed, I cannot think of a better example of modern tyranny in the United States than the presence of a law that literally makes everyone a criminal. In the old U.S.S.R., the average citizen committed about three felonies a day, and American politicians condemned the Soviets for being oppressive and dictatorial. It seems that the U.S. Government has done the U.S.S.R. one better in that U.S. citizens now are felons all of the time.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Music of Dan Forrest

Choral music, and especially great choral music, is one of my passions, and I have sung in select choirs for more than 20 years and have come across some good writers and composers in that time. I believe that perhaps the best choral music writer in the United States today is Dan Forrest, who is a music professor at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.

Thank goodness, Dan has a blog on which he has posted some of his music, and it I admit to spending hours at a time listening to his choral pieces. I had never heard of him until Christmas Eve 2008 when I was listening to the radio. The Brigham Young Choir was singing "Carol of Joy," something with which I was not familiar, but it instantly resonated with me. It really was breathtaking both in its music and lyrics and when I heard the name "Dan Forrest," I immediately did a Google search and found his blog.

True to form, I ordered a bunch of his music and will present it to our choir director to see if he wishes to use any of it (and I hope he does, obviously). I would recommend the interested person to go to the Choral (Church) section and find the different selections. Of course, the site already automatically plays four of his newest pieces, including one of the most beautiful renditions of "Be Thou My Vision" that I ever have heard.

His "Good Night Dear Heart" is especially moving. It comes from something written by Mark Twain upon the death of his daughter. Dan wrote it in one evening following the death of an Ethiopian baby that his brother and sister-in-law were preparing to adopt. As the adopted father of two Ethiopian boys, it was especially moving to me.

Besides the four pieces you will hear when enter the site, I strongly recommend the following:

"Hymn of Hope"

"Carol of Joy"

"A Cradle Carol"

"Hymn of Mercy," and

"Never a Brighter Star."

They can be accessed through this link:

I can only hope that readers will enjoy this site as much as I have. Dan is a wonderful talent, comparable, I believe, to John Rutter, except that Dan believes what he is writing, unlike Rutter and his predecessor, Ralph Vaughn Williams, who have written great music, but whose hearts have been closed to the God of the Universe.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

An Evening with Violinist Sonya Hayes

Last night (Saturday, August 1), a good-sized audience in Cumberland, Maryland, was treated to a wonderful performance with violinist Sonya Hayes and John McCrary on piano. As one who has been taking violin lessons the past three years, seeing something like this always is bittersweet, as I love hearing the instrument played well, yet I know I never can create those same sounds.

Ms. Hayes has a wonderful future with this instrument, I believe, and is one of the few African-Americans who is playing publicly. That may make her unique, but as she and everyone associated with music knows, there is no affirmative action when it comes to producing the pleasing sounds that the audience wishes to hear.

That being said, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and watching this lovely young woman produce some wonderful music from her instrument. She was this year's featured artist for the Alta Schrock Memorial Concert, which is dedicated to early career support of young musicians, and from the reaction of the audience, she clearly did not disappoint. The concert was part of the 2009 "Music at Penn Alps" series that is put on each summer in which accomplished musicians play either at the Penn Alps complex in Grantsville or in Windsor Hall in Cumberland.

It sounds almost trite to point out that great musicians are fundamentally sound, but I will say it, anyway. Ms. Hayes really was a picture of knowing how to play an instrument correctly. Her motion with the bow is flawless and watching her control that bow was a pleasure to watch, and you can bet I watched her carefully (realizing that everything my teaching has been telling me to do was put on display for me to see).

I wish this young woman the very best as she pursues a career as a violin soloist, and I hope to be able to hear her again soon.