March 15, 2005 | 6:03 p.m. ET  

Perfect storm of corruption?

He's been one of the poster boys for alleged corporate corruption.  But today, after eight days of deliberation, a jury in manhattan announced its decision.  Worldcom's former Chief Bernard Ebbers could now be facing up to 85 years in prison.

Ebbers was convicted today in a massive accounting scandal that brought down his company.

We wanted to spend the next hour digging deeper into the corporate greed that led to the downfall of CEOs like Bernie Ebbers.

Your e-mails:

It will not be enough if Bernie Ebbers simply serves time, no matter how long, if his family still gets to live large on his ill-gotten gains.  Will he have to pay back some of those billions he cheated his shareholders out of? —Kellie Maisch

I was reading the timeline of WorldCom's growth and fall.  It started in 1999 and then the article skipped to 2002.  I was a WorldCom employee at the time, and whoever put the article together forgot to add the thousands of WorldCom employees who their jobs, in some cases their homes, their families, their cars, their retirement buffers and their confidence.  Bernie needs to do some time and perhaps someone should consider having him payback the millions he borrowed at the expense of his employees.  —Anonymous

Why are drug tests for hotel maids and other powerless employees justified by the claim that "drug use costs companies money," whereas the spending habits of greedy CEO's go un-monitored? As an investor, I'd rather CEO's have a 24 Greed Evaluator following them around then know the contents of a low-level employee's pee.  One costs investors billions; the other is simple oppression. —Dr. T.G. O'Donnell

Asking corporate leaders to accept responsibility for thier actions and be accountable for bad choices seems to be a bit hypocritical when our national leadership refuses the same standards! —Toni Boutwell, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Let's move on, and send Ken Lay from Enron... We could make a clean sweep of it,or at least a dent. it would solve our deficits, re-establish our crediability in the "eye's" of the world and ourselves, and reinstate our "moral values"... —Rich Baron, Burlington, Vt.

All CEOs caught in criminal acts while running a publicly held corporation most certainly ought to have ALL OF THEIR ILL GOTTEN GAINS confiscated and redistributed to the share holders and rank and file employees, without whom these great corporations could NOT be built. —James Mancuso, Perry, N.Y.


March 15, 2005 | 1:16 p.m. ET  

Author of "The Purpose-Drive Life" reacts to the Atlanta tragedy

Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?" and pastor of Saddleback Church, wrote a statement reacting to the role his book played in the Atlanta hostage situation.

Ashley Smith, who was held hostage for about seven hours, read Chapter 33 of the book to alleged courthouse killer Brian Nichols.

From author Rick Warren, regarding Recent Atlanta tragedy:

While traveling in Africa this week, my wife, Kay, and I have been following the heartbreaking developments through news and email reports of the tragedy unfolding in Atlanta in recent days.

We have grieved with the rest of the country over the senseless loss of life, and our hearts and our prayers go out to the victims and their families. 

We have been grateful to see God use 'The Purpose Driven Life' to provide comfort and direction to people from all walks of life, and were humbled to learn that hostage Ashley Smith found strength and encouragement in its pages during her seven-hour ordeal.

I understand Ms. Smith shared a portion from the chapter on “Servanthood” with Mr. Nichols, which seemed to have a positive impact on his life. Jesus sometimes calls us in some of the most difficult situations to be an advocate for Him and the message He represented while on this earth.

We are thankful that Ms. Smith was able to draw from the Scriptures and her reading from the Purpose Driven Life to bring some hope to her captor’s life that was unraveling so tragically and dramatically.

A PDF file of the chapter read to Nichols is available here, with permission from his publisher Zondervan, a Christian communications company.

March 15, 2005 | 12:56 p.m. ET  

Breaking news : Bernard Ebbers, who built WorldCom from a humble Mississippi long-distance firm into a telecommunications titan, was convicted on all counts Tuesday, guilty of engineering the colossal accounting fraud that sank the company.

A federal jury in Manhattan deliberated eight days before returning guilty verdicts on one count of conspiracy, one count of securities fraud and seven counts of false regulatory filings. Ebbers, 63, could face up to 85 years in prison.

Find out more about this story on 'Connected: Coast to Coast with Ron Reagan and Monica Crowley at 5 p.m. ET today.

March 15, 2005 | 12:55 p.m. ET  

The debate over gay marriage (Ron Reagan, Monica Crowley, and your e-mails)

Reaction was in surplus yesterday, after a judge in California ruled that state laws against same-sex marriage are unconstitutional . Yet even that city’s mayor— who okayed thousands of same sex marriages last year— says it’s to early to call this a complete victory.

That’s one way of looking at it. Gay marriage opponents vow to continue the fight... The case goes from here  to  California’s Supreme Court, generally considered somewhat conservative.

What do you think about the polarizing issue of gay marriage? Your-emails:

It's about time we once again had courts using rationality and common sense to institute fair laws in a civil society instead of 2000 year old fairytales. —Toni Boutwell, Myrtle beach, S.C.

I think marriage is better than living together either by heterosexual or homosexual people. The rights of married couples are different than single people. —Merle

The only difference between civil unions and marriage is religious beliefs. Let's call it what it is: religious bigotry and discrimination against those of us who happen to be gay. Just because more people are straight than gay does not mean we're unnatural, wrong, or evil. Stop using God to hate. I don't think he appreciates it. —Joshua Grove Albany, N.Y.

What's the point of banning gay marriage? Protecting the 'sanctity' of marriage? If someones religious beliefs or moral values lead them to believe the sanctity of marriage then why not make adultery illegal. "Thall shall not commit adultry" is the word of God after all. —Steve from Gainesville, Fla.

It strikes me that the administration's position on gay marriage takes the form of "separate but equal" — equal rights, but different in name.  I believe the "separate but equal" doctrine has already been ruled upon a few decades ago. —Chris Mercadante

It seems the right wing only complains about judges when they rule against them. If this "will of the people" was allowed the South would still be an agricultural economy with plantations and slaves. —Alex, Orlando, Fla.

We have much bigger problems to face than two people of the same sex wanting to share a life together. —Michelle, Conn.

What is the sanctity of marriage?  Getting married in Las Vegas followed by divorce 24 hours later (ala Britney Spears) or it is a celebration of two people whole love each other deeply? —Chris, San Francisco, Calif.

We cannot legalize everything people want to do. This is not irrational, this is not narrowmindedness. This is wisdom. So long as the majority of this country believes in a higher authority, we will run the country accordingly and not be swayed by minority groups wanting to legalize their every desire. —Jason, Savannah Ga.

To me this issue about same sex marriage is similar to the don't ask don't tell policy of the US military. There is still going to be gays in the military and in society but the elites want them to hide their rights in the closet. —Wilson Johnson

If those opposed to gay marriage are trully trying to protect the sanctity of marriage I'd think they'd want a Constitutional amendment to also ban divorce. Heterosexal marrige is more of a threat to the sanctity of marriage then allowing gays to pariticpate. —William Benson

State governments should get out of the marriage business.  States should only offer civil unions for couples wishing to be united, be they straight or gay. Couples choosing to have a second religious ceremony may do so in the religion of their choice. —Debbie, Charlstown, WV

I think it is about health insurance, wills, pensions, and the ability to provide for a loved one when you are in a same sex relationship. I just wish it was portrayed like that in the news. —Keith

I remember asking my mother, back in the mid-1950s, why two men couldn't marry each other. I was only five years old at the time. I still have never heard any good reason why two individuals of the same sex can't marry, and have the same privileges that any other married couple have under the law. What distresses me most is when I hear Christians rant about the immorality of this concept. Do they really believe that they know more than the good Lord they claim to worship Who created homosexuality in the first place? —Anonymous

The argument that homosexual marriage leads to the break down of society is ludicrous, society has always been broken - hence the first coming of Christ. Homosexual marriage encourages monogamy, a practice which supports, unity, peace and stability, outcomes any one would hardly consider contrary or unrighteous. —Carl Carino, Punta Gorda, Fla.

No reasonable person would deny the natural, physiologically-complementary differences between the sexes. Same sex-unions, incapable of natural copulation are, by that fact, unnatural and abnormal. —Bill Swety, Philadephia, Pa.

I do not believe gay marriage is morally right, but we must remember this is the United States of America. The freedoms given by the Constitution will allow this to take place, so don't be surprised. —Paul C. Goodwin

Marriage doesn't mean you have to have children, but marriage does mean you are united and you are man and woman. We don't have the right to change that definition. Allowing gays to marry will belittle marriage, it's meaning, and our country will go down the toilet. We need to respect marriage as it always has been. If gays want their own way of showing their commitments, they can have civil unions but not marriage. —Bobbi, Pa.

March 14, 2005 | 5:52 p.m. ET  

Just what you need after a long flight (Ron Reagan)

You’ve gone on a trip, parked your car in an airport lot and carefully noted the location with the help of those ubiquitous signs; you know the ones— they usually feature some combination of letters and numbers to help you find your way back to your vehicle.

Now, days, even weeks later, you’re back. It’s late— or perhaps very early. You’ve just spent an obscene amount of time wedged into an airline seat that was apparently designed for a hamster. All you’ve had to eat for the last seven hours are tiny bags of rancid nuts and the occasional mini-cup of imitation juice. Your joints ache; your stomach is launching its own intifada; your mind is befogged. At this lowest of moments, you face your greatest challenge: locating your car.

Memory alone clearly won’t cut it. You can no longer remember your kid’s names. Truth is, you’re not sure anymore that you have kids. Facing a vast sea of automobiles, you begin to panic. Fortunately, stuffed into a pocket— there it is—  a scrap of paper inscribed 9E, your lifeline.

This is more or less the story of Kim and Perry Baker who returned to the Portland International Airport in Oregon Thursday from a trip to Arizona. Among more than 4,200 cars spread over fifty acres, 9E was their spot. They were almost home.

Almost. One little hitch: while they were gone, seemingly in an act of sheer perversity, the airport had switched the parking lot signs. 9E was now I4.

“I feel like I’m in a big joke”, was Kim’s reaction.

Well Kim, it’s a joke that’ll just get funnier and funnier. Thousands of travelers will return over the next days completely unaware that they’re heading into a Candid Camera sketch from hell.

The airport blames the sign company. A sign company employee offered this: “It could have obviously been facilitated in a better manner.” Well, yes.

On the bright side, though, these folks aren’t in charge of air traffic control.

Maybe they should install a new sign at the entrance to the airport: “Happy Early April Fool’s Day!”

E-mail RReagan@MSNBC.com

March 14, 2005 | 5:32 p.m. ET  

Women guarding inmates

A 200 lbs. man, already on trial for a violent attack against a woman, was guarded by a small 51-year-old woman. It provided to be a disastrous combination.

That deadly incident is now raising serious questions about courthouse security everywhere, and about whether women are suitable for such dangerous duty.

Your thoughts:

The comments of the DA and your current guests (saying that this has nothing to do with gender) border on absurd.  When people die like this, it is time to put aside the political correctness, and get real.  I am in my last year of law school, but it hasn't taken me this long to figure out that laws with admittedly good and noble intentions are allowed to overcome simple common sense all too often. My question for your guests is: will they give that gun back to her?  Or is that a non-issue as well? —Matt Taylor, Orange, Calif.

If size does not matter, why don't we get rid of weight classes in boxing? Does size really have no bearing in a fight? —Eric Meyer, Hawaii

I am a police officer and a defense tactics instructor. Currently, in fact throughout my career, there have been no requirements for continuing training throughout the officer's career, let alone requirements to maintain a level of physical fitness.  This allows the officer to lapse into complacency.  There are requirements in the academy, where I teach, and the recruits are enthusiastic, but rarely will officers continue that training after the academy because they are not required to do so.  Only by requiring officers to maintain a certain level of training will we insure the safety of police officers throughout the nation. —George McLaren

I am a retired officer and gender is definitely a consideration when criminal/suspects decide to escape.  It worked in my favor because most suspects didn't believe they would need to bring the same force with a woman as would be necessary with a man.  In this case I think the determination on the part of the suspect was the overall deciding factor and he perceived the woman guard to be a plus in his favor.  On the part of the guard she thought that her coworkers were watching and would help her if necessary.  Sometimes officers and guards are not as 'on guard' when they believe there is a support system if things go wrong.  —Trina, Maryland

As a former correction officer I wonder why the cuffs were taken off before he was put in the cell. He should have been put in the cell,lock the door then ordered to turn around and put his back next to the bars so the cuffs could be taken off by the officer.  —Ed Mackey

Interesting how the bloggers on The Right have plastered Brian Nichols' picture all over their blogs, but not one mention of Terry Ratzmann, the wingnut gone berserk in Wisconsin killing 7 including himself. —Maria Enns, N.Y.

I just wanted to make a brief comment about the events in Atlanta.  I was a correctional officer for the California Dept of Corrections for nine years.  The size of the officer makes no difference.  I saw situations where there were 60 year old little old ladies escorting and transporting violent criminals who were huge in stature.  The mistake occurred with the escorting officer being armed.  Nichols may have overpowered the officer, but would not have had access to a weapon.  Obviously, there should have been two officers escorting in every situation. The solution would be to have every prisoner wearing a stun belt, which could be activated by the escorting officer(s) should any problem occur. This would solve the problem of having the jury see the prisoner in restraints as well. The Fulton County sheriff’s dept needs to change their escorting procedures.  The sex of the officer should make no difference. —Anonymous

March 14, 2005 | 12:52 p.m. ET

A story of survival and faith

It's a fascinating story of survival. One brave woman's talking led the accused Atlanta courthouse killer to end his run from the law.

Police are crediting Ashley Smith with saying all the right things when she was held hostage by Nichols. In the end, it wasn't the largest manhunt in Georgia history that ended his run. It was talk about faith and family that finally convinced Nichols to give up.

Did spirituality save Ashley Smith? We talk about her story on Connected.

Your e-mails:

The protection of the Holy Spirit enveloped Ashley and saved her from Nichols. The Holy Spirit also touched his heart and I do believe that an intervention took place in both their lives. It will be interesting to see the impact he will have in prison. — Janie Johansen, Tallahassee, Fla.

It is great that Ashley was so brave and calm, but was it a god? What about the people who Nichols killed? God could not intervene to save them? God gets too much credit for random survival, but no blame for random disasters and cruel murders. — Jim, Conn.

God made his presence, will and love known through Ashley Smith. If he was present to reach out to Brian Nichols I must believe that he was also present to receive the souls of those he has killed. — Nancy Rice, Easton, Pa.

Meanwhile, the next day in Milwaukee, a Christian fundamentalist claims seven victims. Let's get some faith-based context. — Robert Macala, Miami Beach, Fla.

Ashley's handling of the situation should be a lesson to us all. If we as Americans would have used the same approach in Iraq, we could have saved thousands of lives. The lesson is to kill with kindness than to go in with all guns blazing. — Jeff, Fla.

You have to understand that God was the one who protected Ashley. It was God who calmed her and allowed her to make the man pancakes. It was the Spirit who caused Nichols to regret what he had done and let Ashley walk out of that apartment. Nothing happens outside of his will. While it is harder to understand why the judge and others are dead, God also allowed that to happen and ultimately we will understand. —Anonymous

God is a myth believed in only by the irrational, and since both of these people believed in the myth, she got through to him. In his case, Nichols' acts were irrational and continuing the irrational conversation got Smith through her ordeal. Proving once again that irrational people cannot have a rational discussion. —James King, St. Charles, Ill.

I think Ashley Smith's ability to handle her hostage situation is a clear example of the power of spirituality and faith. I can only hope that I could be so strong in my faith and character. Let non-believers see "God works in mysterious ways"  and learn from this experience. —BK, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Your focus on God being on side of the victims that survived is ridiculous. Do you really think that God had had a preference of the survivors over the ones that did not? This is the most selfish example of religion I have ever seen. —Jnani Clay, Indianapolis, Ind.

I keep hearing reference to the fact that she is a widow, that she has been through what the families of Nichol's victims have been through. I've yet to hear any details surrounding the circumstance of her husband's death. Could you report on that? I think it is important to understand what she has been through in order to understand how she was able to stay so composed during this crisis. —Terry
Greensboro, N.C.

Is this the MSNBC version of the 700 Club? Jerry Falwell as your authority on criminal spirituality? Do plan to bring him back when the trial for Mr. Nichols comes to the death penalty phase so the Reverend can back up the suitability of such a punishment with a bunch of Old Testament references? —Jeannine, Va.

I take correction to Rev. Falwell's statement that being a Christian— and an evangelical one at that— "best" prepared Ashley Smith to face Mr. Nichols. There are many kinds of faith - Christian and non. —Katharine Christie, Lake Forest, Ill.

I am not a born again Christian, just someone who believes in God. This clearly goes to show that there is an Almighty, and if you believe in him, he will always come to your aid when you need him most — Rose M.

Ashley Smith is indeed a remarkable young woman, and her apparent religious faith may have helped her in the dangerous and difficult situation she found herself in. But I would suggest that grace under pressure is not the sole province of religious faith. Insight, courage and compassion exist in us all, irrespective of our religious faith. To suggest that God alone was responsible for her courage and compassion is to take away from Ms. Smith's remarkable self-awareness and intelligence. —Jeff

March 11, 2005 | 6:15 p.m. ET

Judge, 2 others killed at Atlanta courthouse

A judge, a court reporter and at two sheriff's deputy were killed at the Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta on Friday. Authorities were hunting for the suspect, a man who had been before the judge facing rape charges.

Your e-mails on today's headlines:
On the shooter's guard being a woman

Why isn't someone asking why a single armed female sheriff was guarding a violent felon like this?  There is no way a physical guy like this, given the opportunity, wouldn't try and over power this officer. —J. Larson, Hinckley, Ohio

The "putdown" of the deputy who was overpowered because she was female shows how objective you all are! —Glenn Lycan, Whittier, Calif.

Having a female deputy escort a 200 lb man in court is just plain stupid. People are just scared to admit that in public afraid they'll offend somebody. How stupid. —Frank Capps, Charlotte, N.C.

Questions

How in the hell did a man like that get a machine gun in the first place to attack and rape his girlfriend with? I wouldn't have a clue how to get a machine gun! —Diane, Miami

If this guy is so violent and allegedly did what he did to the rape victim, why was the first trial a mistrial?  The talk all day is this trial appeared to be an "easy" conviction, what did the state's attorney do the first time that resulted in the mistrial?  A conviction in the first trial and today would never have happened. —Bill Mulvaney, Seaford, Delaware

As a former police officer,  my question is why would a prisoner who had been found with weapons on his body the day before, be allowed to be unhandcuffed, no leg shackles,  
and only " 1 " deputy on him.   A suspect, who commited armed and violent "rape" had in his possession a automatic weapon at the time?  This was a total lack of security by the  Fulton County Sheriff's Department, it was a total lapse in good judgement.  And I feel for the families of those who  lost thier lives, because of this terrible lapse of good  judgement. — T.R., Covington, Indiana

Much focus has been on the safety of judges. This is a good thing but what's lost is a discusion about the safety of juries. I had an experience a few years ago on a panel being questined by the defense attorney. He asked everyone what area they lived in, when he got to me he wanted my exact address! The judge forced me to give this info in open court even though I protested about my security. —K. Suhr, Miami, Fla.

Suggestions on how to make courtrooms safer

The Atlanta courthouse shooting didn't need to happen.  I'm a corrections officer and routinely deal with inmates being transported to the county courthouse for jury trials. In my experience, inmates are always brought before a jury wearing civillian clothes and no restraints. In fact, judges require this practice to avoid tainting the jury's opinion of the inmate based on appearance. However, there are measures we've taken to safely bring inmates before judge and jury. One measure includes the use of a remotely controlled stun belt that can be worn under in inmate's civillian clothing.  It is controlled by a court officer with the ability to trigger a 5 second, 75,000-volt surge of electricity to the inmate's lower back if he/she becomes disorderly.  In most cases, though, county jail and sheriff's department officers would need a judge's authorization to utilize such a device. —Jason, Green Bay, Wi

You had a gentleman who just said judges and court reporters should wear kevlar vests. Why put the onus for protection on the victims: judges, etc.? All perpetrators appearing before the bench should be handcuffed prior to entering the courtrooms. If they are found innocent, the handcuffs can be removed. — Paul A. Bobby, Mahaffey, Pa.

Unfortunately, there is no way to totally protect judges. I worked years ago as a prison guard at the State Prison of Southern Michigan, then the largest walled institution in the world.  When first going through training, I was surprised to learn that the guards carried no weapons of any sort.  The explanation made sense, however.  We were constantly amongst inmates.  There was too much danger of being overpowered and then we have armed the inmates.  The same here. I am a trial lawyer.  I agree that the Miami model is a good one.  There should be some weapons in the courtroom but they do not need to be obvious.  Additionally, I would strongly recommend that personal information, such as residence, vehicle identification, phone numbers and things like that be required to be kept secured, not publicly available.  As with the Federal Judge in Chicago, where apparently white supremacist groups had put information on the internet as to how to find her, one has to wonder if the killer of her family members perhaps obtained information as to her residence from that.  I would strongly favor legislation that prohibits the dissemination of such information. —Jim Conrad, Charlotte, N.C.

I have heard that guns can be equipped with a mechanism that makes it impossible for anyone other than the owner to fire the gun. If such a weapon had been issued to the deputy today there would have been no shooting in the courtroom. —Judy Nix, Charlottesville, Va.

There was no need for the shooting in Alanta. There is a device that fits under clothing and locks up not allowing the knee to bend if the person moves at any speed other than a slow walk. Thus a defendent can not run. When I was a probation officer we used this device in a murder trial. —Joan Ormond, Arcata Calif.

I am for guns and the whole bit.  But for our court rooms, I think a hand gun should be under the judge's bench AND the officers around the convicted utilized tazers instead of hand guns.  Have an armed officer right next to the judge.  I have seen some of those officers have Kevlar on....why not something simpler design Kevlar for the rob on a judge? —Jason Lumetta, St. Peters, Miss.

Why then is it necessary for law enforcement to carry guns? If an event occurs necessitating intervention by law enforcement, would it not be a better to have tazers to incapacitate instead of a gun on the belt? Again, the gun is the culprit. If no gun had been available, this would not have happened. — Anonymous

Symptomatic of a bigger problem

Perhaps the reason why threats and violence against judges is on the rise is because that criminals feel that they can get away with it nowadays. Also, perhaps many criminals take it as a personal insult that their lives might be disrupted by a judge's ruling, and thereby plot revenge. —Sail, Flushing

The president talks disdainfully in the State of the Union speech about "activist" judges.  Anti-abortionists post the addresses of judges they deem “enemies” on the Internet. The right has cultivated a climate where judges are targets. No wonder they are no longer safe. — Pat, Pasadena, Calif.

Ms. Crowley, in the wake of the Atlanta murders, you asked "Who's job is it to protect us?" Unfortunately, it is increasingly not the job of police departments. Many claim that their job is to apprehend perpetrators who do us harm after they perpetrate the harm. —Paul A.Bobby, Mahaffey, Pa.

The level of violence in America is unlike any other country, unless you are in Iraq. This does not happen in civilized countries. American society promotes violence, there will be more and more frustrated and disturbed people in this society because our government refuses to address any of America's core problems. — J.

On the coverage

The concern for political correctness has reached a ridiculous level. To refer to a gunman who shoots and murders three people in a Fulton County courtroom as a "suspect," is an example. This individual is an assailant, not a suspect. — Dante Giammarco, North Bergen, N.J., Waterhouse

Discuss:

Discussion comments

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