A former Unified police officer charged with faking DUI reports and illegally collecting thousands of dollars in overtime entered guilty pleas Monday.
Stephen F. Hall, 44, pleaded guilty to theft by deception, a second-degree felony, and one count of falsifying a government record, a class B misdemeanor. Two additional misdemeanor counts of falsifying a government record were dismissed in exchange for Hall’s plea.
In 2012, Hall reported to his supervisors that he had made 27 DUI arrests, issued 398 citations and impounded 27 vehicles while working shifts funded by the state as part of a DUI grant. The grant allowed officers to work overtime hours to conduct DUI patrol, and the state would later reimburse the department for those hours.
But Unified Police Department supervisors discovered that their own records did not match Hall’s grant sheets.
LTMC: emphasis mine. This is what happens when you give financial incentives to police departments to “make” crime. Corruption inevitably follows.
Several years ago I read a piece in The New York Times by Adam Liptak about Ryan Holle. Ryan, who had no prior record, is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole in Florida. He was convicted of pre-meditated murder, even though no one, including the prosecutor, disputes that Ryan was asleep in his bed at home at the time of the crime. This could only happen in America, because we are the only country that retains the Felony Murder Rule. What the Felony Murder Rule essentially says is if anyone has anything to do with a felony in which a murder takes place, such as a robbery, that person is as guilty as the person who has committed the murder. Every other country including England, India and Canada has gotten rid of it because of its unintended consequences. In America, Michigan, Kentucky and Hawaii no longer have the law. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled, when they discarded the Felony Murder Rule, that a person should be held responsible for his own actions not the actions of others.
When Judges Attack: Prosecutorial Smackdown Edition
An Assistant District Attorney in the Bronx was recently destroyed in open court by a Bronx Criminal Court Judge. The judge was livid about the D.A.’s failure to turn over exculpatory evidence to the Defense during a rape trial. The Defendant spent eight months in prison awaiting trial, and the evidence wasn’t disclosed until the end of the trial, after closing arguments. The judge took the rare step of barring the prosecutor from ever appearing in his courtroom again. The transcript of the hearing is epic, to say the least:
The Court: I think I’ve heard enough. You can stay standing.
I was admitted to the bar in April of 1987, and I was, at the time, an Assistant District Attorney in the Bronx DA’s Office. I’ve always been very proud of that association, until today. I also served as a defense lawyer and 18B counsel. I’ve tried homicides; I have tried child molestation cases; and I have tried drug sale cases.
I have now been on this bench nine years and three months. In all that time, as a prosecutor, as a defense lawyer, as judge, I have never once seen a Brady violation as egregious as this.
To my mind, this is an utter and complete disgrace, not just for you, but for your office in general. Disgrace.
The excuse you offer, passing the file back and forth, no one looking and no one knowing what anything is, saddens me on one level and makes me sick on another.
For my own peace of mind, I absolutely refuse to believe that you did this on purpose. However, it is gross negligence on your part to have not found this information, and turned it over to Defense, and for your supervisor to find it and turn it over right after Defense summations. I emphasize those words: Gross negligence.
I recall the Defense asking before the trial started for any notes that the People had in their possession, and you blithely said, “No, we don’t have any notes.” It turned out, unfortunately, to be a lie. Your actions bring disgrace to both your office and to yourself.
But what really concerns me more than anything else is: Where is the justice for your complaining witness? Where is her justice? She had the right to have this case heard by a jury and have that jury decide whether or not they believed her allegations. She’s lost her chance at that justice due to your conduct.
What about [the Defendant’s] justice? The Defendant had a right to have a jury decide whether or not they believed those allegations. Where is his justice waiting for his trial? You have failed on so many levels, on so many levels.
Here are your sanctions: You’re going to leave this room, and you’re never going to come back. You can’t appear before me anymore. I’ll tell you why, because I cannot trust anything you say or do. I can’t believe you. I can’t believe your credibility anymore. The only thing a lawyer has has to offer is their integrity and their credibility, and when you’ve lost that, there is no purpose in your appearing before this Court.
A Superior Court judge who sentenced a wealthy du Pont heir to probation for raping his 3-year-old daughter noted in her order that he “will not fare well” in prison and needed treatment instead of time behind bars, court records show.
Judge Jan Jurden’s sentencing order for Robert H. Richards IV suggested that she considered unique circumstances when deciding his punishment for fourth-degree rape. Her observation that prison life would adversely affect Richards was a rare and puzzling rationale, several criminal justice authorities in Delaware said. Some also said her view that treatment was a better idea than prison is a justification typically used when sentencing drug addicts, not child rapists.
A lot of people are furious about the sentence handed down in this case, not to mention the language used to justify it. And I understand their shock and their outrage. But I don’t share it.
As someone who advocates for a more restorative approach to justice, it seems to me that a prison sentence in this case isn’t accomplishing anything other than punishment. And, given the details of the offense, the judge is almost certainly right that the offender would not fare well in prison. He’d likely be savagely beaten, raped, murdered … or all of the above. He might be put in protective custody in prison, but that would mean solitary confinement all day every day for the duration of his sentence which is, I think, a form of torture.
Of course, this is precisely what some people want: Offenders ought to be made to suffer in prison. The virtue of that suffering is the suffering itself; we are outraged by the offense and we want to pay back the offender in kind. That, for a great many people, is the whole point of prison. It’s why people complain about anything from prisoners’ access to educational opportunities, to television privileges, and to three square meals a day. If you’re watching tv or taking a correspondence course, you’re obviously not suffering enough for the offense that landed you in prison.
For my part, I think we’d do better to think about steps we can take to right the wrong that occurred and to ensure that it isn’t repeated. Of course, it’s clear that society needs to be protected from dangerous offenders and so, in some cases, probation would be completely inappropriate; this doesn’t appear to be one of those cases. But in case my reading of the situation is incorrect and this offender presents a potentially ongoing danger, the judge has mandated treatment (both inpatient and then outpatient) and has ordered the offender to stay away from children. Failure to comply will surely result in a prison sentence.
What remains, then, is an attempt to right the wrong or respond to the harm that has been done. In cases where an offender is sentenced to prison, the public feels that justice has been done and we can all move forward. But there’s absolutely no line drawn for us between a prison sentence for the offender and righting the wrong experienced by the victim … because there really isn’t any immediate connection between those two things and because we don’t spend a whole lot of time considering the needs of victims.
Restorative justice isn’t about leniency for offenders; it’s about discovering and attempting to meet the needs of victims while encouraging offender accountability. It’s just not clear that lengthy prison sentences under the worst possible conditions accomplishes either of those things.
LTMC: With stories like this, I find that people often have difficulty separating two issues: inequality of outcomes versus the qualitative justice of each outcome.
It is unjust that poor sex offenders typically get thrown to the wolves in prison, while a rich sex offender is given treatment and probation because he “won’t fare well” in prison. Wealth shouldn’t dictate the kind of justice a person receives. That’s an inequality of outcomes that everyone can agree is unfair.
The question remains, however, of how outcomes should be equalized. The knee-jerk reaction to this situation is that this guy escaped a well-deserved stint in the punitive hellscapes America calls prisons. But sentencing a person to eternity in a concrete hate factory is not necessarily the right result, for all the reasons Prof. Kohen stated above.
But what about the victims? How will they get justice unless the offender suffers commensurate to their crime? I’ll let the infamous bleeding heart hippie Winston Churchill plead my case:
The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country. A calm dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused, and even of the convicted criminal, against the State— a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment— a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry those who have paid their due in the hard coinage of punishment: tireless efforts towards discovery of curative and regenerative processes: unfailing faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man. These are the symbols, which in the treatment of crime and criminal, mark and measure the stored-up strength of a nation, and are sign and proof of the living virtue in it.
This is, to put it lightly, some “next level shit:”
It sounds like the stuff of science fiction: a mortally injured patient is put into suspended animation so doctors can buy time to close up his wounds and save his life.
But that seemingly improbable scenario is about to become a reality at five centers around the United States where doctors will try to stop the clock on patients who’ve sustained gunshot or knife wounds that were so severe their hearts stopped.
In the past, when efforts to restart the heart failed because so much blood had been lost, these patients would have been declared dead because there was no way to get enough oxygen to the brain before it was irreparably damaged.
Scientists now think that by quickly and dramatically cooling down a trauma patient by replacing blood with cold saline solution, they can send all the cells of the body into slow motion. That would mean the cells would need less oxygen, which would give doctors the time needed to make repairs that would stop the bleeding.
Once repairs are made, blood would be exchanged for the saline solution through a heart-lung bypass machine. This would restore circulation and bring body temperature back up to normal. In animal models, the effect has been quite stunning.
"It’s really fascinating," said Dr. Paul Vespa, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery and director of critical care at the University of California, Los Angeles. "They have basically suspended animation and in an animal model, there’s an amazing recovery."
"The Law, in it’s majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread." — Anatole France, Le Lys Rouge (The Red Lily), ch. 7
About a week ago, a homeless Arizona mother with 2 young children left her kids in the car while she attended a job interview. GIven that she is homeless and looking for work, you can probably imagine that she couldn’t afford childcare. The kids were obviously not happy to be left in a hot car with no air conditioning in the dry heat of Arizona. But you’d think people would at least be applauding this woman for “pulling herself up by her own bootstraps.”
Instead, she was arrested for child abuse. Here is the headline from a local news station:
The average person who reads this headline will think this woman is a scumbag. They won’t get the complete picture that is painted later in the article:
The mother, Shanesha Taylor, 35, returned to the vehicle about 45 minutes later and told the officer she had just finished a job interview and did not have anyone to watch her children.
"She was upset. This is a sad situation all around. She said she was homeless. She needed the job. Obviously not getting the job. So it’s just a sad situation,” said Scottsdale Police Sergeant Mark Clark.
She was arrested and booked into jail for child abuse.
Her children are now in CPS custody.
Why did the local news station not put this in their headline? Why not “Homeless Mother Who Couldn’t Afford Childcare Arrested For Leaving Kids In Car During Job Interview?” That’s 15 words instead of 12. Not exactly going to break the printing press. Why make this woman look like a scumbag instead of a desperate, poor woman who has run out of options and is doing the best she can?
Sadly, the fact remains that Shanesha Taylor was technically in violation of the law when she left her kids in the car. Taylor’s arrest is part of a long and proud tradition of criminalizing poverty in America. It fits in well with Rudy Guliani’s infamous crusade against the homeless in New York City. In San Francisco in the 1990’s, nuns were arrested for serving hot meals to the homeless. In years past, vagrancy laws were used as a carte blanche for police to detain or arrest “idle” people without homes or jobs.
The media doesn’t help. They use shocking headlines to paint the poor as criminals, and then bury the nuances at the end of the article, which many people won’t bother to read. Many people who read the headline pictured above will walk away thinking Shanesha Taylor is a bad mother, rather than a mother who was simply doing the best she could with the cards she’d been dealt. Did she break the law? Yes. But she didn’t really have any other options.
This is an excellent example of a situation that the criminal justice system was not designed to solve. It would be one thing if CPS was simply taking Taylor’s children until she can get back on her feet. But that’s not what happened here. Shanesha can’t look for a job while she’s in jail. And the mere fact that she’s been arrested will make it harder to get back on her feet due to the stigma of her arrest. The criminal justice system is not helping Shanesha Taylor or her children. It is doing both of them active injury. Criminalizing poverty doesn’t make it go away. If anything, it just creates more.
Once they had a ship, the pirates elected their captains, and made all their decisions collectively. They shared their bounty out in what Rediker calls “one of the most egalitarian plans for the disposition of resources to be found anywhere in the 18th century.”
They even took in escaped African slaves and lived with them as equals. The pirates showed “quite clearly – and subversively – that ships did not have to be run in the brutal and oppressive ways of the merchant service and the Royal navy.” This is why they were popular, despite being unproductive thieves.
Deadline is reporting that one of our favorite historical ladies may be coming to a television screen near you: Ching Shih, a pirate’s widow who, at the dawn of the 1800′s, began a career that would make her one of the most notorious pirates in the world, the terror of the Chinese, British, and Portugese navies, so unstoppable that the only way to end her naval empire wound up being to offer her complete amnesty and a nice retirement.
Maggie Q, late of Nikita, Mission: Impossible III, and Young Justice, is”set to headline a limited series from Steven Jensen’s Independent Television Group, Mike Medavoy & Benjamin Anderson of Phoenix Pictures (Black Swan), and Fred Fuchs (Transporter). Titled Red Flag, the series is set in the early 1800s and centers on Ching Shih (Maggie Q), a beautiful young Chinese prostitute who goes on to become one of history’s most powerful pirates and head of the most successful crime syndicate in China.”
Little is known of Ching Shih’s early life, so our accounts of her usually begin with pirate leader Zheng Yi taking a cantonese prostitute for his wife. During their marriage, Ching Shih was fully a part of her husband’s profession. After his death, she maneuvered and politicked her way into the lead position of his fleet, taking as a lover and new husband a man she could trust to take care of (and I might be reading a little too far into Wikipedia here) all the boring administrative stuff. Under Ching Shih, her fleet adopted a strict code of conduct governing loyalty and the distribution of loot and stolen goods, as well as personal conduct.
Ching Shih was also remarkable for being one of the only famous pirates to retire and die of natural causes. Giving up on defeating her, the Chinese government offered complete amnesty to all pirates, and she accepted, taking her ill-gotten gains and opening a gambling house, eventually dying at the age of 69.
LTMC: amazing stuff. The original article is from 2009. It gives some insight into why the Somali pirate “problem” came to exist in recent years:
In 1991, the government of Somalia – in the Horn of Africa – collapsed. Its 9 million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.
Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the U.N. envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no cleanup, no compensation and no prevention.”
At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish stocks by over-exploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300 million worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia’s unprotected seas.
The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: “If nothing is done, there soon won’t be much fish left in our coastal waters.”
This is the context in which the men we are calling “pirates” have emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a “tax” on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coast Guard of Somalia – and it’s not hard to see why.
In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters … We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas.” William Scott would understand those words.
No, this doesn’t make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters – especially those who have held up World Food Program supplies. But the “pirates” have the overwhelming support of the local population for a reason. The independent Somalian news site WardherNews conducted the best research we have into what ordinary Somalis are thinking – and it found 70 percent “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defense of the country’s territorial waters.”
“Why the ongoing fascination with deconstructionism and with the work of the philosopher whose radical works inspired it? Why does this philosophical strain seem strangely central to the conception of modern criticism, even as it recedes in influence? And why do these thinkers’ personal lives and ideological compromises seem unusually relevant to their work, beyond the usual scandal-sheet Schadenfreude?”—
Richard Brody on the first three volumes of Heidegger’s “Black Notebooks” and the role of anti-Semitism in his philosophy: http://nyr.kr/1jYNngY (via newyorker)
Recently, when I visited Toronto to help start a new project called Front Lines International, I met soldiers facing long prison sentences for speaking out. For me, Jules Tindungan, 26, and Chris Vassey, 27, were virtually impossible to tell apart from the average Canadian, but both of them are American soldiers on the run and applying for asylum in Canada.
They were experienced, door-kicking infantrymen in the US 82nd Airborne when they went to Afghanistan. After 15 months they returned home changed men. Both of them believed they had been involved in war crimes and fled to Canada—Jules first, then Chris—where they would be able to speak out. Men like these do not refuse lightly.
Chris told me that whenever his patrol took incoming in Afghanistan “it was no holds barred… the day after, when people come to your base saying you shot up their home, tractor, farm… all we would say was, ‘Well, the enemy was on the run… don’t let them fire at us from your backyard and this won’t happen again,’ as if they had condoned it.” He saw Afghan national army soldiers “butt-stroke” local women in the face with their rifles during raids. It was, he was told, how thing were done in Afghanistan.
Jules explained that after one firefight his platoon recovered remains—bodies and body parts. These were strapped “to the hoods of trucks and driven through local towns as a sort of warning.”
Both men have been vocal in the Canadian antiwar movement. They will suffer for their words if deported. “Dudes who speak out get harsher punishments,” Jules told me. “Statements made to the media, as well as in social media, are used as evidence against you when you are sentenced.”
Jules also told me that one soldier who ended up back in the US phoned him from military prison, warning him to clear his Facebook posts and emails of any criticism of the military or the war. “They compiled a very thick docket of his Facebook statements and emails as evidence against him,” Jules said.
Chris is now an ironworker but easily slips back into telling expletive-filled soldier stories about his long months spent doing “illegal shit” in “A-stan.” He confirmed what Jules had said about the risks of speaking out: “Video or audio of you speaking out is used against you—usually guaranteeing a stiffer sentence.”
Also, this, from a former U.S. drone pilot:
Heather still honors the non-disclosure agreement that came with her security clearance. Having been involved in numerous kills she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, but she says that she cannot claim the veteran’s benefits she is entitled to because she can’t detail to doctors the missions that saw her develop the condition. If she does, she risks jail. Heather is 24 years old.
“In his book Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics, Jonathan Dudley notes that most evangelicals held far more liberal views [on abortion in the 1960’s]. “God does not regard the fetus as a soul no matter how far gestation has progressed,” wrote professor Bruce Waltke of Dallas Theological Seminary in a 1968 issue of Christianity Today on contraception and abortion, edited by Harold Lindsell, a then-famous champion of biblical “inerrancy.” His argument rested on the Hebrew Bible, “[A]ccording to Exodus 21:22–24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense. … Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.””—
"Addict" is one of those words that so many of us use, largely without pausing to wonder if we should. We just take for granted that it’s totally okay to describe a human being with one word, "addict" — a word with overwhelmingly negative connotations to many people.
We don’t really do that for other challenging qualities that can have a serious impact on people’s lives. We don’t say, “my mother the blind,” or “my brother the bipolar.” We don’t say, “my best friend the epileptic,” or “my nephew the leukemia.” We don’t do that because we intuitively understand how odd it would sound, and how disrespectful and insensitive it would be. We don’t ascribe a difficult state as the full sum of a person’s identity and humanity. Maia Szalavitz eloquently expressed similar frustration with terms like “substance abuser” in her recent piece at substance.com.
When we do feel the need to reference a state of disability, challenge or disease when describing a human being, we say something like, “My mother has cancer,” or “My nephew has leukemia.” And we would almost certainly never let that be the only thing said about that person, something that defined them. We do not say or suggest that a person is their challenge. We remember that they are a person first, then if appropriate indicate their challenge as one factor of their existence.
Why can’t we be that intelligently sensitive with people struggling with drugs?
My days of chaotic substance abuse are long behind me. I am not “an addict” now, and I wasn’t “an addict” then. I’m just a person, who had a period of difficulty, pain and challenge. I battled, I failed, I tried again — just like most people.
Why not try using any of the following as alternatives to calling someone “an addict”: person dependent on drugs; people struggling with drugs; person in recovery from addiction. The use of person-centric language may seem inconsequential, but I assure you, it is not. It is vitally important to scores of people, most of whom you’ve never met and never will. They are the people who, in the eyes of the world, are lumped into that “other” category you’ve created for them by calling them “an addict.”
This makes a lot of sense to me. I use the same logic to discuss people accused of breaking the law, i.e. “criminals don’t commit crimes, people do.” The term “criminal” carries with it a lot of additional negative implications that don’t actually apply to most people accused of breaking the law.
"Addict" falls into a similar category: a mental checklist of negative characteristics gets lit up whenever we hear it. We imagine a person who is unstable, has a complete lack of self control, and is perhaps even a danger to those around them (even though that’s usually not the case). Even the facially-neutral term “drug user” has the same effect. People who take anti-depressants or insulin are technically “drug users,” but we’d never refer to them as such. It’s more often used as an ad hominem, than a neutral adjective.
Once objective terms become loaded like this, it’s hard to rob them of their acquired meaning. It may be the better option to simply abandon them altogether to achieve the desired result.
The "Outrageous Government Conduct" Doctrine & The War On Drugs
Recently, Techdirt reported on a California case where Judge Otis Wright slammed the government for its conduct in a drug sting operation. Judge Wright’s opinion is a thorough primer in Drug War conduct, and how “outrageous conduct” by the Government can violate the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment.
In this case, ATF agents baited a couple of residents from a poverty-stricken neighborhood into “assisting” the agents with a drug stash robbery to acquire cocaine. They played up how “pure” the cocaine was, how it was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, and stressed how much money the defendants stood to make from the robbery. Over the course of the sting, they convinced the defendants to buy firearms, come with them in a rented van, and accompany them to the alleged safehouse where the robbery would be staged from. Once there, the defendants were arrested.
The Defendants sought to get their indictments thrown out on the “outrageous government conduct” doctrine. Judge Wright sums up the doctrine as follows:
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution commands that “[n]o person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” U.S. Const. amend. V. The Due Process Clause stands as a bar to the Government invoking judicial process to obtain a conviction when its conduct is “outrageous.” United States v. Russell, 411 U.S. 423, 431–32 (1973) (Rehnquist, J.). The outrageous-government-conduct doctrine permits a court to dismiss an indictment when the Government engages in conduct “so grossly shocking and so outrageous as to violate the universal sense of justice.” United States v. Smith, 924 F.2d 889, 897 (9th Cir. 1991). Judicial scrutiny focuses solely on the government’s actions—not the alleged actions of the criminal defendant. United States v. Restrepo, 930 F.2d 705, 712 (9th Cir. 1991). The outrageous-government-conduct doctrine thus differs in that respect from an entrapment defense. Id.
As Judge Wright notes, there’s no “brightline test” for determining when the doctrine applies. Courts in the Ninth Circuit evaluates a number of factors, including:
(1) known criminal characteristics of the defendants; (2) individualized suspicion of the defendants; (3) the government’s role in creating the crime of conviction; (4) the government’s encouragement of the defendants to commit the offense conduct; (5) the nature of the government’s participation in the offense conduct; and (6) the nature of the crime being pursued and necessity for the actions taken in light of the nature of the criminal enterprise at issue.
After applying the factors, Judge Wright determined that the Government’s conduct here was indeed outrageous. He stressed that the Government’s conduct here was essentially targeted at desperate poor people who were more likely to risk their life and liberty for the Government’s promise of wealth:
Allowing after-the-fact knowledge to mitigate the Court’s concerns in a situation like this also creates a perverse incentive for the Government. It encourages the Government to cast a wide net, trawling for crooks in seedy, poverty-ridden areas—all without an iota of suspicion that any particular person has committed similar conduct in the past. And if the Government happens to get it right and catch someone who previously engaged in crime, the courts will place their imprimatur on the whole fishing expedition.
Judge Wright then discusses the arbitrariness of the charges:
In these stash-house cases, the Government’s “participation in the offense conduct” is what makes them particularly repugnant to the Constitution. Everything about the scheme—and therefore almost everything bearing upon a defendant’s ultimate sentence—hinges solely on the Government’s whim. Why were there not 10 kilograms in the stash house? Or 100? Or 1,000? Why were the guards allegedly armed—necessitating that Defendants bring weapons along with them? All of these factors came down to the ATF and the undercover agent alone. That sort of arbitrariness offends the Constitution’s due-process demands.
Judge Wright then goes on to discuss the futility of these “make crime” operations in a brilliant takedown:
Zero. That’s the amount of drugs that the Government has taken off the streets as the result of this case and the hundreds of other fake stash-house cases around the country.That’s the problem with creating crime: the Government is not making the country any safer or reducing the actual flow of drugs. But for the Government’s action, the fake stash house would still be fake, the nonexistent drugs would still be nonexistent, and the fictional armed guards would still be fictional…. Instead, the Government comes close to imprisoning people solely because of their thoughts and economic circumstances rather than their criminal actions.
Society must question whether the astronomical cost associated with prosecuting fake crime is worth it.
Indeed. Unfortunately, there is a real question as to whether this will hold up on appeal. But Judge Wright deserves all the credit in the world for having the courage to stand up to the federal government and call them out for truly outrageous conduct: baiting desperate poor people with the promise of drug money.
A year from now, there surely will be conferences marking the 50th anniversary of what is now known as the Moynihan Report, a.k.a. “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” In March 1965, Moynihan, then 37 and assistant secretary of labor, wrote that “the center of the tangle of pathology” in inner cities — this was five months before the Watts riots — was the fact that 23.6 percent of black children were born to single women, compared with just 3.07 percent of white children. He was accused of racism, blaming the victims, etc.
Is there anyone not blinkered by ideology or invincibly ignorant of social science who disagrees with this:
The family is the primary transmitter of social capital — the values and character traits that enable people to seize opportunities. Family structure is a primary predictor of an individual’s life chances, and family disintegration is the principal cause of the intergenerational transmission of poverty.
Assuming for a moment that family disintegration is indeed the principal cause of the intergenerational transmission of poverty, perhaps we should ask ourselves what the cause of that disintegration is. If only there were some sort of objective data we could look at which might explain why poverty remains a structural problem for “inner city” residents.
We also might imagine that all of these problems conspire together to create a system of hurdles that can make it difficult for poor, inner-city families to stay together. A system in which the dark-skinned residents of inner-city neighborhoods have difficulty finding good jobs because “respectable” employers are less likely to hire them. A system that makes it difficult for these residents to save or invest, because what little economic capital they have is stolen from them through the fines and fees that accompany harsh enforcement of civil and criminal violations in low-income neighborhoods.
A system, in other words, that robs poor, inner-city families of opportunities to rise out of poverty.
My instinct is to conclude that Paul Ryan & George Will are experiencing a failure of imagination. That would explain why they continue to ply old, tired theories about the “culture of poverty” that have been discredited over and over again, regardless of whether it is Conservatives or Liberals who are doing the theorizing.
The African-Americans who endured enslavement were subject to two and half centuries of degradation and humiliation. Slavery lasted twice as long as Jim Crow and was more repressive. If you were going to see evidence of a “cultural residue” which impeded success you would see it there. Instead you find black people desperate to reconstitute their families, desperate to marry, and desperate to be educated.
The “culture of poverty” thesis doesn’t work because we have objective data to show that structural barriers to economic success exist for residents of poor inner-city communities. We also have objective data to show that the poor inner-city families are being torn apart by a 2-tiered criminal justice system, and a school system that disproportionately inflicts discipline on poor Black boys, removes them from the classroom, and disrupts their educational growth. These are the primary forces that trap poor, inner-city residents in poverty. Not a nebulous “culture problem” that coincidentally exists side-by-side with the same institutional barriers to economic advancement that existed when the Moynihan report was released.
Orwell once said that “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” One can only hope that Ryan, Will, and their like-minded peers will find the time to focus their gaze. Maybe then, they would see the truth.
A California judge has tentatively ruled that the state could hold the major financial research company accountable for pinning triple-A ratings on state-bought mortgage-backed securities that went bust in the crash of 2008.
California Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow in San Francisco said yesterday he was inclined to deny the company’s request to throw out the state’s claims of deceptive conduct from a lawsuit alleging S&P violated false-advertising and business practices laws.
The state accuses S&P of using “magic numbers” to inflate ratings of mortgage-backed securities bought by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the state’s teacher pension fund. The funds lost more than $1 billion on the investments, according to the state.
Standard & Poor’s is also being sued for fraud by the U.S. Justice Department in a separate case in federal court in Santa Ana, Calif. “The U.S. accuses the company of lying about its ratings and being free of conflicts of interest,” Bloomberg writes. “The firm has said it provided the same credit ratings as Moody’s Corp. and Fitch Ratings on residential mortgage-backed security and collateralized debt obligations before the credit crisis.”
The company has denied wrongdoing in both lawsuits, and the judge did not say when he would issue a final ruling.
Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism called the development “potentially huge.”
“Heretofore, no one has been able to sue the ratings agencies (astonishingly, they’ve been able to claim First Amendment protection, that their work is mere journalistic opinion),” she wrote on her site on Sunday. “This angle might work.”
It’s pretty far-fetched to say that the opinion of a financial professional is protected from civil liability by the First Amendment. If an attorney gives bad legal advice, he or she may be liable for legal malpractice. If a doctor gives bad medical advice, he or she may be liable for medical malpractice. If an accountant gives bad tax advice, they may be liable for accounting malpractice. We hold professionals to a higher standard because their jobs are so vital to the proper functioning of society. When a professional screws up, it can very easily ruin someone’s life.
Financial professionals who work at S&P should be held to the same standard. Ratings agencies are the glue that holds together our economy. Billions in assets move based on their rating assignments. If they’re fudging the numbers, a lot of people get screwed. And they shouldn’t be per se protected from civil liability for negligence or malfeasance related to the ratings they assign.
With all that being said, civil liability in this case would still probably not flow from a professional malpractice claim. A problem would arise in the form of something called privity of contract. Ratings agencies are typically paid by the companies they rate in exchange for receiving a credit rating. Consumers and investors relying on those ratings are third parties who technically have no obligation to rely on S&P’s credit ratings (they are free to disregard them). Numerous professional malpractice suits have been thrown out on this basis. If you’re a third party with no contractual relationship to the professional, you often have no claim.
It is much easier, however, to hold them liable for fraud. The elements for a common law fraud claim are simple and straight-forward. The person sued must (1) make a misrepresentation of fact, (2) know that it is false, (3) with intent to deceive the alleged victim, (4) the victim justifiably relies on the misrepresentation, and (5) the victim suffers injury as a result.
In incriminating e-mail after incriminating e-mail, executives and analysts from these companies are caught admitting their entire business model is crooked.
"Lord help our fucking scam . . . this has to be the stupidest place I have worked at,” writes one Standard & Poor’s executive. “As you know, I had difficulties explaining ‘HOW’ we got to those numbers since there is no science behind it,” confesses a high-ranking S&P analyst. “If we are just going to make it up in order to rate deals, then quants [quantitative analysts] are of precious little value," complains another senior S&P man. "Let’s hope we are all wealthy and retired by the time this house of card[s] falters," ruminates one more.
So hopefully this suit endures. There is no better way to encourage corruption than to insulate people from liability for their actions.
“With moral courage comes persecution. The American army pilot Hugh Thompson had moral courage. He landed his helicopter between a platoon of U.S. soldiers and ten terrified Vietnamese civilians during the Mai Lai Massacre. He ordered his gunner to fire his M-60 machine gun on the advancing U.S. soldiers if they began to shoot the villagers. And for this act of moral courage, Thompson…was reviled.”—
The real Israel is coming up to its 50th year of rule over another people and the dispossession of that people’s rights in nearly every sphere. This is the longest occupation in modern history. This occupation deprives hundreds of thousands of Palestinians of their basic human and civil rights every day. And those who view themselves as its supporters and its representatives to the strongest democracy on earth must not ignore this. Reality is forever complex. It means, among other things, a multitude of views about this reality, and that the voices of dissent must not be silenced, the debate must not be distilled to just one issue: The Iranian Threat.
Israel is a vital society with much to be proud of, and it is a country wrestling with many serious issues. People who love Israel should be learning about and engaging with this real-life country, and not with a two-dimensional placard.
Earlier today I was reading through the comments on this HONY post about a young woman who had her tooth chipped after wrestling with her brother. Afterwards, she spends 30 seconds trying to convince her panicked brother that it’s not a big deal:
As 1 of 4 siblings (and an older brother to a younger sister) I couldn’t help but feel a little nostalgic as I read some of the comments:
My big brother goes from being the biggest pain in my ass annoying jerk to one of the nicest most caring persons in my life and sometimes in the matter of seconds lol.
I know my brother can piss me off and I can piss him off, but if he hurt me he always made sure I was okay (and not going to tell mom on him) or he did everything in his power to make it better.
Once my sister pushed me off a bike and I hit my head on the road and it was bleeding a lot. But I didn’t say a word because I could take a hit, but I couldn’t stand my parents yell at my sister. Haha!
My brother [chipped my tooth] when I was 8, he was 6. Except he threw a golf ball at my mouth and I spent the next 2 hours consoling him while he was a hysterical and my parents were trying to find a dentist.
I chipped my brothers tooth when I was 12 and he was 8…spent 30 min convincing him to tell my mom he fell so I didn’t get in trouble. He got me back later in life when he was bigger than me.
I once had a fight with my brother that ended with him accidentally fracturing my knuckle. He couldn’t look me in the eye for days, but he did buy me a couple of stuffed animals as an apology, which I was more than happy to accept.
I accidentally kneed my older brother in the nose and it started bleeding, and at the time I was about 8 so I started crying as he tried to calm me down and say that it’s ok.
My siblings and I used to piss each other off and fight all the time when we were young. Things that seemed reasonable at the time now make absolutely no sense to me now. I often think to myself, “how could I have possibly behaved that way?”, or, “how did I convince myself that it wasn’t my flying elbow smash into my brother’s back that caused him to hit his head on the bedroom door?”
It was even worse with my younger sister. My parents used to force me to do “girl” things with her when I was younger, and you can imagine how thrilled a 12-14 year old boy would be to play with his sister’s barbie dolls. My attempts to weave in the G.I. Joes were usually of little consequence. I was often resentful of the obligation. Most days I wanted nothing to do with her.
Then came the day that my sister came home crying before my parents were home. I asked her what happened. She said some kids on the bus made fun of her. I was furious. The next day, I picked her up from the bus stop, I stormed on to the bus, and I screamed at everybody. I said, in so many words, that anyone who wants to talk shit to my sister is going to have to deal with me afterwards. And if my sister ever came off the bus crying again, I was going to kick someone’s ass. Why the bus driver didn’t intervene, I have no idea. It remains, to this day, one of the few times in my life that I lost all my inhibitions and acted on complete emotion. All I knew is that somebody hurt my sister. Time to go to war.
Fast forward 15 years later. One day my sister hears from my mom that I’ve fallen on hard times and I’m running out of money. She calls me, pissed off that I didn’t tell her about my situation. She tells me that I can come and live with her for free. That I wouldn’t have to pay for a thing. That I could stay there as long as I like, no pressure. When I told her that I was going to stay where I was, she offered to pay my bills. She said if I needed any money to call her. She didn’t care how much it was.
When I was young, I fought with my siblings all the time. Now, as an adult, I find that my emotional health is tied to their well-being in a very profound way. Shortly after I moved out of my parents house, it occurred to me that if I were to lose any of my siblings at this point in my life, the emotional distress it would cause would be so great that I would be utterly useless. My love for my brothers and younger sister is violently strong, despite the fact that we used to piss each other off all the time and kick the shit out of each other when we were young.
I know that not everybody’s relationship with their siblings remains strong as they grow older. It’s a tragedy. My relationship with my siblings is something that I cherish. I still don’t know what it is about sibling relationships that causes them to take on such a strange countenance early in life. But I’m glad that as an adult, my relationship with my siblings is stronger than it’s ever been.
When referees barred Samah Aida from competing in a high school soccer match because of her hijab, the rest of her teammates at Aurora, Colorado’s Overland High School decided to show her their support.
Although many of the players who wore the hijabs weren’t even Muslim, it was about much more than that. Rather than allowing their teammate to feel oppressed, the Overland players decided to take matters into their own hands.
So a group of Israeli high school students thought it would be a good idea to celebrate Purim by dressing up in KKK costumes and blackface. As you can imagine, a lot of people were offended (both within Israel and without). Surprisingly, though, some people are defending the students, including the Principal of the high school:
"The costume was designed to create interesting and important discussions." She added, "This act essentially created a platform where discussion can exist. There would be no difference if it were a Nazi costume." The principal said the students would not be punished.
Someone else wrote:
Purim represents the Jews special relationship with Hashem no matter what evil exists in the world. This is why some dress as Haman, and Romans and Greeks, and other enemies of the Jews. I see Nazis and KKK as enemies of the Jews and thus these costumes are acceptable.
The problem is that dressing up in blackface carries baggage that extends beyond the KKK costumes. Blackface invokes the minstrel shows and Vaudeville acts of America’s past, where Black people were dehumanized by virtue of being portrayed as “characters” played by White performers. Blackface also carries with it the damaging implication that Black skin is a costume that you can put on and take off. It has been used in the past to crowd out people of color from the entertainment industry, where we see White actors using Blackface, Brownface, and Yellowface to play Black, Hispanic, and Asian characters. Blackface therefore has demonstrable negative effects on the Black community.
The students say they “have no regrets,” which is unfortunate. The above attempts to defend these teens all miss the mark. Being a member of a historically oppressed group does not grant one a special dispensation to engage in behavior that perpetuates the cultural oppression of another group. The fact that the KKK historically oppressed Jews does not mean that it’s ok for a Jewish student to dress up in blackface “to create interesting and important discussions.” Using racism to fight racism is to oppress one group at the expense of another. It also undermines the admirable Jewish traditions of "going forth and repairing the world," and to "not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, for once you were strangers in the land of Egypt." If your method of fighting oppression encourages the oppression of someone else, it’s probably not a good method.
“One soldier, describing his first panic attack in 1944 almost forty years later, could still recall the time of day and location of the attack, what he was doing at that moment, and who he was with. Five months before, he had participated in one of the first troop waves to land on the Normandy beaches on D-day. He said the anxiety he felt landing on the beaches was mild compared to the sheer terror of one of his bad panic attacks. Given the choice between the two, he would gladly again volunteer to land in Normandy.”—
Federal prosecutors, judges, and other officials at the Justice Department committed over 650 acts of professional misconduct in a recent 12-year period, according to a new report published by a DC-based watchdog group, the Project On Government Oversight. POGO investigators came up with the number after reviewing documents put out by the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). According to one little-noticed OPR document published last year, a DOJ attorney failed to disclose a “close personal relationship” with the defendant in a case he was prosecuting, in which he negotiated a plea agreement to release the defendant on bond. An immigration judge also made “disparaging remarks” about foreign nationals. POGO contends that this number is only the tip of the iceberg and OPR needs to release more information about this misconduct to the public.
Also, some potential for reform:
A bill proposed on Thursday by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) would overhaul how misconduct is investigated at the Justice Department. Right now, only OPR is allowed to look into ethics complaints, instead of the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, which is widely considered to be more independent. The senators’ bill would move that authority to the IG’s office. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who supports the bill, says: ”When Americans pledge to abide by ‘liberty and justice for all,’ that does not mean that those pursuing justice can creatively apply different standards or break the rules to get convictions—it means that in America everyone is held equally accountable.”
A group of 20 Holocaust survivors arrived on Monday at the Population and Immigration Authority Bureau in Tel Aviv to distribute water and Purim gift baskets to the hundreds of asylum seekers who have been waiting outside the bureau to renew their visas.
The initiative to involve Holocaust survivors, as well as workers and volunteers of the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, came about after many of them noticed the harsh conditions asylum seekers have been facing in recent weeks.
Batya Rapaport, a 75-year-old Holocaust survivor, explained that this is an initiative by survivors and the foundation’s workers “who every day see people waiting for hours in the rain, in the cold, and in unbearable conditions. As a Holocaust survivor it raises thought, it takes you back to a time in which you were constantly chased and your life was in danger.”
According to Rapaport, who as a child escaped Warsaw Ghetto before it was eliminated, the survivors seek to convey a message: “Beyond politics, we want to say that human beings cannot overlook the suffering of other people.”
"When I saw the people waiting here my heart broke," Esther Miron, an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor told Ynet. "When I see people who fled their homes and were left with nothing, I cannot stay silent – I was in that situation too, we too were refugees. The Israeli society has a history and that is why we cannot stay indifferent to human suffering; that should be our primary thought. We established a country here to set a moral example.” Hungary-born Miron was deported during the Holocaust to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, where many of her family members were murdered.
“I did a mushroom trip as my last crazy thing I do alive. I planned on killing myself the next day. I was lucky enough to do it in a park on one if the nicest days imaginable, and that day I saw something I had not been able to appreciate before. It was how beautiful everything was. Everything. I vividly remember looking up into the trees and being fascinated with the branches protruding from the forest around me, and how the waterfall just existed without any human assistance. Naysayers who haven’t tried shrooms need to. Don’t believe the propaganda. It can change you for the better. I wouldn’t be alive now without that experience.”—Comments at HONY.
“I like to present prison as a small village. We have school, health services, a library, they are running their own shop. This is an area for building up trust and responsibility. To take charge of your own life. So we are training inmates to be aware that you are a part of something bigger. Whatever you do outside yourself, the soil, or a human being, it comes back to you.”—Prison Warden of Bastoey Prison in Horten, Norway. This prison houses serious offenders (murder, rape, drug trafficking, etc.). In Norway, there is no death penalty, and the maximum sentence for most offenders is 21 years. The focus of the system is therefore on rehabilitating prisoners under relatively relaxed conditions so they don’t harbor resentment towards society or develop psychoses from the conditions of their confinement. As one prisoner puts it: “Here, it’s normal. So you can act normal when you get out.”
Radical life extension would give humans the power to create an artificial hell for criminals. Should we?
This piece has come across my desktop 3 separate times in the past 24 hours. The answer to its central question is very obviously “No,” but I think the premise requires some discussion.
This notion that criminals don’t suffer enough or get off too easily, especially when they die, really speaks, I think, to the basest part of us, the part that longs to see other people — those who we prefer to think of as monsters — suffer as much as possible.
[A]t the heart of the idea of both the death penalty and life imprisonment without parole is the notion that the offender is completely and utterly devoid of humanity. With this in mind, prison isn’t about correction and rehabilitation; it’s about punishment and revenge. If the death penalty is too expensive, if it risks the execution of an occasional innocent, and if it doesn’t cause all that much suffering, then it can be jettisoned in favor of a punishment that’s cheaper, that we can correct when we err, and that — if done properly — might be even worse for offenders.
Rather than seeking to rehabilitate offenders and keep us safe from those who might try to harm us, we want our prisons to be the most god-forsaken places; we want our punishments to vent all of our rage at crime and criminals; and now, it seems, some of us want to consider creating “a living hell” for criminals we deem not to be able to suffer sufficiently through more conventional means of punishment. Of course, this desire to devise, implement, or marvel at the most awful possible punishments for offenders isn’t anything new. As Nietzsche argues:
Dante, I think, committed a crude blunder when, with a terror-inspiring ingenuity, he placed above the gateway of his hell the inscription “I too was created by eternal love”—at any rate, there would be more justification for placing above the gateway to the Christian Paradise and its “eternal bliss” the inscription “I too was created by eternal hate—provided a truth may be placed above the gateway to a lie! For what is it that constitutes the bliss of this Paradise?
We might even guess, but it is better to have it expressly described for us by an authority not to be underestimated in such matters, Thomas Aquinas, the great teacher and saint. “Beati in regno coelesti,” he says, meek as a lamb, “videbunt poenas damnatorum, ut beatitude illis magis complaceat” (On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic in Basic Writings, 485).
In his footnote, Walter Kaufmann translates the Latin: “The blessed in the kingdom of heaven will see the punishments of the damned, in order that their bliss be more delightful for them.” He notes, also, that this is not quite what one finds in Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae; to be exact, Aquinas writes, “Ut beatitude sanctorum eis magis complaceat, et de ea uberiores gratias Deo agant, datur eis ut poenam impiorum perfecte intueantur.” In English: “In order that the bliss of the saints may be more delightful for them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, it is given to them to see perfectly the punishment of the damned.” While the original differs from Nietzsche’s rendering of it, the spirit is clearly unchanged. The lengthy quotation that Nietzsche employs following Aquinas, while also in Latin, is even more faithful to its author, Tertullian. Here is a short sample, in English:
Yes, and there are other sights: that last day of judgment, with its everlasting issues; that day unlooked for by the nations, the theme of their derision, when the world hoary with age, and all its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame! How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? what my derision? Which sights gives me joy? which rouses me to exultation?—as I see so many illustrious monarchs, whose reception into the heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest darkness with great Jove himself, and those, too, who bore witness of their exultation; governors of provinces, too, who persecuted the Christian name, in fires more fierce than those with which in the days of their pride they raged against the followers of Christ.
Devising ghastly punishments for others is old hat for human beings. But it’s something we can and we ought to outgrow. Focusing on restorative rather than retributive justice is better for us, both psychologically and also societally. We’re simply not doing ourselves any favors by continuing to insist that the only — or the best — vision of justice is one that centers on making offenders suffer and then devising more and more types of suffering to heap on them.
Instead, we would do well to start thinking more seriously about restorative approaches to justice, which, as David Cayley defines them, “seek noncustodial settlements; they allow both the offender and the victim much more initiative; they are oriented more to peacemaking than punishment; and they try to mobilize the capacities of families, friends, and local communities in correcting offenders and holding them accountable” (10). This would, of course, require a radical reimagining of our criminal justice system and a full-scale rejection of the knee-jerk policies of the “Tough on Crime” crowd. We’re a long way from really integrating restorative practices into our thinking about criminal justice, but at least we can begin by vocally rejecting the arguments of those who want to consider whether we can find a way to ethically embrace a biotech hellscape for criminals. Clearly, we cannot.
39 Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” 40 The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?41 And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied to him, "Amen I say to you today you will be with me in Paradise." 23:39-43
And of course, my favorite Biblical passage, Matthew 25:34-40:
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Nobody—nobody—is more so the “least of these” than the incarcerated. Christopher Glazek put it best in his prescient article, Raise the Crime Rate:
Prisoners are not the victims of poor planning (as other progressive reformers have argued)—they are the victims of an ideological system that dehumanizes an entire class of human being and permits nearly infinite violence against it. As much as a physical space, prisons denote an ethical space, or, more precisely, a space where ordinary ethics are suspended.
This ethically exceptional space has created a nightmarish carnival show in corrections facilities across America that has been conveniently shut off from the rest of the world. The absolute horror that gets inflicted upon human beings in prison is the single greatest human rights catastrophe in the First World. And it has been going on for decades. In United States v. Bailey(1980), Justice Blackmun wrote in a dissenting opinion:
The atrocities and inhuman conditions of prison life in America are almost unbelievable; surely they are nothing less than shocking…And the Government concedes: “In light of prison conditions that even now prevail in the United States, it would be the rare inmate who could not convince himself that continued incarceration would be harmful to his health or safety.” […] A youthful inmate can expect to be subjected to homosexual gang rape his first night in jail, or, it has been said, even in the van on the way to jail. Weaker inmates become the property of stronger prisoners or gangs, who sell the sexual services of the victim. Prison officials either are disinterested in stopping abuse of prisoners by other prisoners or are incapable of doing so, given the limited resources society allocates to the prison system. Prison officials often are merely indifferent to serious health and safety needs of prisoners as well.
In Brown v. Plata (2011), the Court described conditions in California’s overcrowded prisons:
Prisoners in California with serious mental illness do not receive minimal, adequate care. Because of a shortage of treatment beds, suicidal inmates may be held for prolonged periods in telephone-booth sized cages without toilets. A psychiatric expert reported observing an inmate who had been held in such a cage for nearly 24 hours, standing in a pool of his own urine, unresponsive and nearly catatonic. …Wait times for mental health care range as high as 12 months.
Prisoners suffering from physical illness also receive severely deficient care. A prisoner with severe abdominal pain died after a 5-week delay in referral to a specialist; a prisoner with “constant and extreme” chest pain died after an 8-hour delay in evaluation by a doctor; and a prisoner died of testicular cancer after a “failure of MDs to work up for cancer in a young man with 17 months of testicular pain.”
In the United States, sexual abuse by guards in women’s prisons is so notorious and widespread that it has been described as ‘an institutionalized component of punishment behind prison walls. …[And] although rape by guards is commonplace in U.S. women’s prisons, most custodial sexual abuse takes forms other than outright rape. Prison officials report that “[m]ost allegations involved verbal harassment, improper visual surveillance, improper touching, and/or consensual sex.” More specifically, women prisoners are subjected to sexual comments, groping, and threats of rape; male guards watching them on the toilet or in the shower; physical searches by male guards; demands for sex in exchange for goods or privileges or under threat of sanction; and guards taking advantage of their position to have “consensual” sex with prisoners without overt material exchange.
The saddest part is that everybody knows this is going on. As Andrew Cohen said recently, “It’s fairly easy to get judges to find unconstitutional conditions inside our prisons. The hard part is getting government to do anything about it.”
Ironically, many “law & order” Conservatives often complain about the collapse of Christian values in America. I’m admittedly not a Christian, but according to Christians I know, the single most Christian value is forgiveness. It is embodied in the concept of Grace, which Theologian Robert Farrar Capon described as "indiscriminate compassion." Those who are concerned about the collapse of Christian values in America could reinvigorate Christian values by working to reform our criminal justice system and inject that same “indiscriminate compassion” into our prisons, rather than a system constructed as a living monument to one of the Seven Deadly sins: "a love of justice perverted to revenge and spite.”
There is a long and noble history of lawyers going against popular opinion in this country. John Adams successfully defended British soldiers accused of killing colonists. His son effectively represented the Amistad case. James Horton, the presiding judge in the Scottsboro case, is remembered today as heroic but at the time lost his job as a judge and couldn’t maintain his law practice due to his affiliation with the case.
[…] The campaign to discredit [Debo Adegbile] is reminiscent of criticism leveled at attorneys representing or advocating on behalf of Guantánamo detainees. In 2010 they were vilified and labeled “unpatriotic” in several media campaigns. Responding to an inquiry from Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), the Department of Justice identified nine of its attorneys as involved in defense work. As a result, these lawyers, along with several other non-government attorneys representing detainees, found their ethics and loyalties under attack for pro-bono work they conducted as a matter of conscience and professional responsibility.
Bar associations and legal organizations defended the Guantánamo lawyers in 2010, speaking out publicly against criticisms of their service on behalf of the detainees. We now object to attempts to vilify attorneys such as Debo Adegbile, and the honorable work of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, as antithetical to the fundamental rights enshrined in our constitutional system. The Legal Defense Fund’s willingness to represent high-profile, and to some, unpopular, defendants demonstrates a respect for the rule of law. Rather than punish principled legal advocacy, as an elected official who took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, [Congress] should commend it as integral to our democracy.
”—A Letter sent by the National Lawyer’s Guild (and signed by numerous other Legal Organizations) to U.S. senators who voted not to confirm Debo Adegbile as head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division. Adegbile is an experienced attorney who represented Mumia Abu-Jamal in the appellate courts. Many senators shied away from Adegbile as a result of a smear campaign against Adegbile led by the Fraternal Order of Police. As the letter points out, by denying Adegbile’s nomination, the U.S. Senate is sending the message that “lawyers who fulfill their mission of upholding the U.S. Constitution through representing [unpopular] clients—in this case former death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal—should be disqualified from serving in high levels of the government.”
Today, a key working group of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced the release of groundbreaking recommendations discouraging criminal sanctions for drug use. The Scientific Consultation Working Group on Drug Policy, Health and Human Rights of the UNODC – which includes Nora Volkow, head of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – is releasing the recommendations at the High-Level Segment of the 57th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The working group recommendations say “criminal sanctions are not beneficial” in addressing the spectrum of drug use and misuse.
“War-mongering is self-justifying. If you bungle a war in Iraq, it does not mean you need to sit back and reflect on the bungling. It means you should make more war, lest Iraq become a base for your enemies. If Vladimir Putin violates Ukrainian sovereignty, it is evidence for a more muscular approach. If he doesn’t, than it is evidence that he fears American power. If there are no terrorist attacks on American soil, than drones must be right and our security state must be effective. If there are attacks, then our security state must increase its surveillance, and more bombs should be dropped. Violence begets violence. Peace begets violence. The circle continues.”—Ta-Nehisi Coates, on Condoleezza Rice’s short memory of the Iraq War and war-mongering as a whole. (via theatlantic)
LTMC: It’s nice to see that Lindsey Graham is such a fervent defender of democracy when his own rights are at stake. This is, after all, the same man who said "Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war" when discussing First Amendment rights in the wake of the infamous Terry Jones Koran-burning incident. It’s always easy to sacrifice other peoples’ liberty for your own security. When you wind up having to sacrifice your own as well, it’s magical how fast opinions can change.
It’s sad how predictable this phenomenon can be. When police in New York City employ “Stop n’ Frisk” to make the city safer, the majority of White New Yorkers approved of the program, while the majority of Black residents did not. Similar attitudes towards “tough on crime” policies prevail in other large cities, where the collateral damage from aggressive policing is borne almost entirely by poor communities of color. For the most part, it is not White residents who are being subject to humiliation, harassment, abuse, and violence in Constitution-free police zones. It is not usually White residents who find themselves inconvenienced and impoverished by aggressive enforcement of petty traffic violations in poor neighborhoods.
This makes it easier for White residents to approve of these tactics, because they are not normally victims of the fallout. It is not their rights that are being sacrificed to make the community safer. It is not their cars that are being pulled over multiple times on the same road. If White residents were being systematically harassed by police, you can bet that their attitude toward “tough on crime” policies would change.
So it’s not surprising to see Lindsey Graham suddenly up in arms about the CIA spying on him and his legislative peers. Because it is happening to him, and that scares him. It scares him to know that federal law enforcement officials could be spying on him. Just like it scares the residents of poor communities of color to walk down the street knowing they are more likely to be stopped or harassed by police than their White friends. Just like it scares Arab Americans and Muslims to know that they are more likely to be profiled as terrorists by the TSA, the NSA, the FBI, and the NYPD than their White friends.
I wonder if Senator Lindsey Graham will make the connection. Probably not, given his magnificent track record.
After a career sending people to prison, it took three years inside a federal penitentiary to change Bernie Kerik’s mind about the criminal justice system. “Not only did I not know,” he tells National Journal, “I didn’t know because I didn’t pay enough attention to it. My job as a police officer and police commissioner is to enforce the law…. You don’t think about what that does on the other end.”
Kerik had a stellar career in law enforcement and corrections, rising to be commissioner of the New York City Police Department under Rudy Giuliani and then a nominee for Homeland Security secretary under George W. Bush. But he found himself at the other end of the law when he pleaded guilty to tax fraud and other charges in 2009.
Inside prison, he was shocked at what he found: good people. He still feels confident that he sent bad guys away as a police officer, but he had no idea how many others get snared in the net. A good father, a young person who made one mistake, a commercial fisherman who caught too many fish—people whose lives would be forever changed by a felony conviction. “The system,” he says of a machine he embodied as much as anyone for decades, “is broken.”
It’s both relieving and frustrating to see this sort of reaction from a former law enforcement official. Relieving because these are precisely the type of people we need speaking out against the system. Frustrating because it shocks the conscience that a person could be so willfully blind to the bad outcomes he helped create for so long. He was on the front lines. Police Commissioners are policy makers and have access to a lot of data. How did he not see the outcomes? A person shouldn’t need to be sentenced to three years in prison for that person to feel empathy for people who are already there.
An interesting article regarding the plight of American dancers who typically retire in their 40’s and must make a career transition. Apparently, some European countries solve this problem by providing early access to public pensions for dancers:
A report titled “Dancers’ Career Transition” by the International Federation of Actors explains: “In general, dancers in Europe can benefit from general national pension schemes applicable to all workers, provided they have contributed to the schemes.” It further mentions that “A few countries have specific provisions on early retirement of dancers. Conditions to access schemes and the amount of pension benefits vary considerably across countries.”
“Some of these early retirement schemes,” it goes on to say, “are applicable only to dancers employed in national companies/national ballet (France and Norway, for example). In Latvia, a specific law applies to early retirement of dancers (and other live performance professionals). Several other countries provide in their legislation for special conditions under which dancers can retire earlier (like Hungary and Poland). In Sweden, dancers employed in public owned dance institutions, can benefit from a special pension plan run by the state which gives the right (under certain conditions) to a pension between 41 and 65 years of age.”
In the United States, though, “There is no governmental support for dancers that transition from full-time performing,” James Fayette, a former NYCB principal dancer told me. “The only benefits American dancers receive are the same as every other American has access to, Social Security and Medicare at 65 years old.”
The Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection is accused of detaining an Indiana woman at the airport without cause and then quizzing her about her sex life on knowledge the agents may have gained through the interception of private emails.
The suit charges the only way authorities could have known that information and been able to question the nature of [her] relationship was by reading emails stored on [her boyfriend’s] hard drive.
Even more concrete evidence that yes, the government will use the information it gets from spying on innocent people.
LTMC: The amount of information that is just out there, floating in the ether of various government databases, would probably startle the average person. For example: The Social Security Administration knows every single job you’ve ever worked at where you paid payroll taxes. The IRS knows exactly how much money you’ve made every year that you file (assuming you’re reporting everything you make). If you use an electronic EZ-Pass for quick access to toll booths, your state’s Dep’t of Transportation knows the time and date of every instance that you’ve used them.
In some cases, it makes sense for the Government offices who run these programs to have this information. It can be used to hold Government officials accountable. For example, time-stamps on electronic “SunPass” toll booth records in Florida were used in a 3-month investigation that determined Florida police officers were habitually speeding on Florida highways in excess of 100+ mph. The public pressure led to an investigation and reforms in police departments across Florida.
The point remains, however, that most people are unaware that this information is out there, or that it can be used against you if you’re being investigated by government officials. It’s always good to keep in mind what’s out there, so you can protect yourself from liability.