crime and punishment

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“Rapine” Is Not “Republican”

Monday, September 15th, 2014

A few weeks ago, when the Ferguson, Missouri, protests were well underway, a few crucial facts emerged from the tumult.

A graph showed that Ferguson led the state — by a wide margin — in arrests per capita.

While it’s true that Ferguson could be that much more violent and criminal than every other city in the state, somehow that possibility doesn’t seem very plausible.

When we learned that “86 percent of stops, 92 percent of searches and 93 percent of arrests were of black people — despite the fact that police officers were far less likely to find contraband on black drivers (22 percent versus 34 percent of whites)” … well, the whole thing stank of something other than a mere crime problem.

It’s a policing problem.

And, of course, a “war on drugs” problem.

Another fact, from the same source: “Ferguson receives nearly one-quarter of its revenue from court fees; for some surrounding towns it approaches 50 percent.”

No way to run a government. Journalists and activists call such regimes “for-profit policing,” and cite the rise in civil forfeiture practices as encouraging and solidifying the method.

But “for-profit” is a bit of a misnomer.

It’s more like rapine (an old word you might most often see paired with “pillage”) than “for-profit.” It’s a looting system, while “for-profit” suggests selling a service freely on the market and earning rewards for filling consumer needs. Ferguson basically engages in shaking down a population of people, repeatedly profiling and harassing them, extracting as much of their wealth as can be had —  Frédéric Bastiat’s “legal plunder” comes to mind — and leaves them to … protest, later.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Your Local Vortex of Despair

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

I don’t know about you, but through the years I’ve received my share of traffic tickets and parking citations. Minor stuff overall, seventy dollars here, a hundred bucks there, a couple hundred smackeroos if caught in the wrong speed trap.

Sometimes the cost made me say ouch. But like most folks I just pay the tickets. And try to slow down.

But if you are poor, struggling, climbing the ladder from one of the bottom rungs?

Different story. And a speed trap set up by your local police or the state troopers, then, has a much different punch to it.

Could traffic tickets be instruments of tyranny?

Well, the $150 some of us can pay with a mere wince another simply cannot pay, or can only pay at the expense of a child’s supper, or replacing a balding tire on the car, or . . . worse.

And those who cannot pay, despairingly, often shirk the “duties” they cannot perform. Like coming to court to pay the fines they can’t pay. And then they get arrested. And then serve time.

A few more “and thens” and their lives are wrecked. Along with the lives of their children.

Radley Balko tells several such stories in his recent article, “How municipalities in St. Louis, Mo., profit from poverty.” He explains the very human costs of speed traps and other penny ante scofflaw “services” the police inflict all around Ferguson, the scene of last month’s protests and violence.

Balko quotes one observer, who describes the whole system as a trap for the poor, sucking them into a “vortex of despair.”

Stop punishing the working poor with excessive fines. Vanquish the vortex!

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Thieves With Badges

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Civil forfeiture is the government practice of taking property from citizens without due process, but while pretending that it’s all above-board. When police say they suspect a crime, they can impound property associated with that crime. “Civil forfeiture” is the legal legerdemain: instead of suing the owner, the government sues (get this) the property itself.

And, because of this trickery, burden of proof is inverted: victims must prove their innocence and their right to the impounded property.

Generally, governments keep it. Some police departments are “rolling in the dough” they get from impounding property.

This has been known for some time; I’ve written about it before. But now the Washington Post has finally taken notice … and unearthed a new element to the story.

“Behind the rise in seizures is a little-known cottage industry of private police-training firms that teach the techniques of ‘highway interdiction’ to departments across the country,” the Post’s report relates. There’s even a private intelligence network, the Black Asphalt Electronic Networking & Notification System, through which police “share detailed reports about American motorists — criminals and the innocent alike — including their Social Security numbers, addresses and identifying tattoos, as well as hunches about which drivers to stop.”

Participating police officers compete to steal more and more booty from drivers and their passengers.

Yes, it is stealing. It is only nominally “legal.”

Unfortunately, it is only one practice among many that have turned local police departments into the moral equivalent of gangland robbers.

If you say you want limited government, this is an issue ripe for protest. And lobbying for reform. And citizen initiatives.

For starters.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Learning Lerner’s M.O.

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

I fib. We’re not really learning anything new about Lois Lerner’s modus operandi. It’s just the same old wiping of evidence — evidence that she and others at IRS knew was relevant to congressional inquiry into IRS misconduct.

Lerner is the former IRS department head in charge of reviewing applications of non-profits for tax-exempt status. Her department targeted right-leaning applicants for special obstruction and delay. The practice began to come to light a couple of years ago.

Congress has asked for a great deal of documentation from the Internal Revenue Service that has yet to be supplied, including all of Lerner’s pertinent email. As I’ve discussed before, the IRS has claimed that her hard drives accidentally crashed in June of 2011 — and not hers alone — so that much of the relevant email is gone.

No backups on any server, either.

It all sounded pretty bogus back when the story was “hot.” And now, according to testimony of an IRS employee just filed in the case of Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Internal Revenue Service, it transpires that Ms. Lerner had a BlackBerry on which her email traffic was routinely duplicated … and that this device was wiped in June 2012, months after Congress started asking questions about the ideological targeting of applicants for tax-exempt status.

Judicial Watch, my hero, is now urging the court to require the IRS to divulge the relevant dates of the wiped data, then subpoena BlackBerry for the data. Because we all know that it hasn’t really disappeared forever into the black hole at the center of the galaxy.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Justice Delayed in Cambodia

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

It’s not a satisfying verdict. And no punishment can ever balance the scales for the many lives that the Khmer Rouge destroyed.

This August the two most senior surviving regime leaders, responsible for slaughtering an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979 in the name of restructuring society along collectivist agrarian lines, were sentenced to life imprisonment. They are 88-year-old Nuon Chea and 83-year-old Khieu Samphan.

The pair are the first Khmer Rouge leaders convicted under proceedings sponsored by the Cambodian government and the United Nations. The only previous verdict was handed down in 2010 against a lower-rung if still pretty vicious official, Kaing Guek Eav, then 67, sentenced to 19 years. As a prison commandant, he had overseen the torturing and killing of more than 14,000 people.

“I am not satisfied!” said 79-year-old Chum Mey back then. He had testified about being tortured by the regime. “We are victims two times, once in the Khmer Rouge time and now once again.” Others expressed similar dismay.

As for the notorious Pol Pot, he had died in 1998 after briefly suffering a house arrest as penalty for just one of his many murders.

One hopes that the proceedings, tainted by politics and other vitiating factors, will be improved even at this late date. But as near-futile as the trials must seem to many survivors, I have to believe that even partial justice, however meager and belated, is better than no justice.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Candid Cameras for Cops

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Should policemen be required to wear cameras?

Some already do. The rationale for the proposal is this: when police wear cameras that — with a few carefully defined exceptions — must be on whenever officers are on the job, they do their jobs better.

With respect to the furor in Ferguson, Missouri, a big question is what exactly happened there the day a cop shot and killed Michael Brown.

Officer Darren Wilson claims self-defense; he and eyewitnesses disagree about details.

It would have been helpful to have video of what happened. (We do have video of an immediately preceding incident: of Brown, a large man, robbing cigars from a local store and shoving the protesting store owner, a much smaller man.)

Or consider another case I’ve discussed, that of Eric Garner, the New York City cigarette seller killed by an officer’s chokehold despite Garner’s repeated insistence that he couldn’t breathe. That death was recorded on a bystander’s cell phone. What if it hadn’t been? The shock has spurred renewed calls to begin outfitting NYPD with cameras.

But there’s no reason to limit pilot programs to the Big Apple.

Some police work, like meetings with confidential informants, cannot be recorded without making the work impossible. But cops who are on the beat, entering a home, stopping motorists and the like should be recorded while doing these things. With appropriate safeguards against “malfunction,” the cameras could both prevent unnecessary violence and support officers who are in fact justified in using deadly force.

Until the advent of universal peace and harmony, let’s give the cameras a try.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Nothing to Sneeze At

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

I don’t believe everything I read. If I did, I’d believe seven incompatible things before breakfast, and by lunch I’d suffer a nervous breakdown.

From a cognitive dissonance overload.

There’s a story just out: A Tennessee teen was allegedly suspended from school for saying “Bless you.”

Un-sneezin’-believable.

I don’t want it to be the case that even the people whose policies I generally oppose — in this case, public school administrators (I think the government school system needs to be opened up, competitive) — can be this outlandishly foolish.

The story comes out of CBS Charlotte. One Ms. Kendra Turner, a senior at Dyer County High, says that she offered a “Bless you” after a classmate had sneezed. And then her teacher reprimanded her, saying (in Ms. Turner’s story) “we’re not going to have godly speaking” in the classroom, and the student protested that it was her “constitutional right.”

The disagreement went to an administrator, and the young lady was booted out of school. The school claims the girl was “disruptive,” which hopefully means something other than saying “Bless you.” The girl’s pastor is concerned, and suspects a very touchy, irreligious teacher.

The story seems preposterous. And yet similar stories elsewhere have been confirmed, usually about non-existent, symbolic guns. The degree of intolerance amongst today’s cultural vanguard (which includes teachers) for unapproved practices astounds.

There’s almost nothing more innocuous than a “Bless you,” or even a “God bless you.” It’s so traditional it’s hardly even religious.

But this story does have a ring of plausibility. Why? Because there is no level of absurdity — no breach of common sense — that a zealot won’t contemplate.

Especially a zealot in America’s intellectually bankrupt public schools.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.