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Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Friday, February 29, 2008

Different Lenses, Same Numbers

So the new statistics are that 1 in 100 American adult citizens are in prison—more than any other country in the world. The spinning has already started: what is responsible? I would suggest that the typical liberal answer has to do with a lack of economic opportunity and differential justice. I would further suggest that the typical Conservative answer has to do with a collapse in moral judgment, damage to the traditional family, violence in the media, etc.

Those who are polarized in terms of specific racial or gender issues will look at the following, and interpret it wildly differently:

"For some groups, the incarceration numbers are especially startling," the report said. "While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, for black males in that age group the figure is one in nine."

The racial disparity for women also is stark. One of every 355 white women aged 35 to 39 is behind bars, compared with one of every 100 black women in that age group.
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Those who believe that the “playing field is level” socially, often point to such statistics as evidence that blacks are inferior either genetically (intelligence) or socially. Those who believe that racism is alive and well point to the exact same statistics as evidence that the justice and educational systems, as well as economic institutions and more, are horribly slanted.

Those who believe women are greatly disadvantaged can point to this as proof of the inherent criminality of men. Curiously, these same people often point to the racial part of the statistics as evidence of the injustice of the system…again, created by white men.

Racists who believe blacks are inferior, and use incarceration statistics in support of this, NEVER take the position that men are inferior, based upon the exact same statistics. I’ve never seen or heard such an argument, even once.
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It is true that women are more victimized by men than men are victimized (violently) by women. But on the other hand, men are more often victims of violence than women are. I’ve often heard the response that that is because men are innately more violent. Well, the statistics certainly indicate men are more violent. But statistics also indicate men are more creative and innovative, based upon inventions, discoveries, and works of art world-wide.

A reasonable answer is that women have been denied opportunities. Fine. But the same social engineering answer might then reasonably be applied to the question of higher violence, mightn’t it? That there is something about the system that allows—or compels—men toward greater accomplishment also creates a competitive context in which violence is more likely.

I’m just sayin’.

But if you continue to apply that thought, then you look at the differential in violence or convicted criminality between whites and blacks. If one excuses the higher violence among men on the basis of social conditioning or context, does that extrapolate to the higher violence and convicted criminality along racial lines?

On the other hand, if one takes the “nature” argument to explain the difference (men have higher testosterone, or something) does that imply that black men are…well, more “masculine” than white men? That being more male they might also have more tendency toward criminality?

Frankly, I’ve never read or heard anyone who was willing to take either of these arguments to the “end of the line.” Invariably, they adjust it: taking a dash of social programming here, a soupcon of genetics there…to support their own political agenda.

Radical Feminists will suggest that statistics proving men are more criminal are indicative of a basic flaw, but that stats demonstrating an historical gap in creative accomplishment are social engineering. Racists will suggest that the difference between whites and blacks in incarceration rates are indicative of genetic inferiority, but that between men and women is due to something innately powerful and grittily wonderful in men.

Black radicals will say that the differences indicate racism on the part of whites. I’ve heard some say that the male-female differential is due to the pressure women put on men to compete. Hell, I’ve used a touch of that argument myself.

The point is that everyone twists the exact same statistics to make themselves look good. Such statistics become, in other words, a Rorschach test, or a mirror: What do you believe? Does essence precede existence? Does existence precede essence? Do you extend to others the same justifications you use to cushion your own existential angst?

So…the question of the day is: is it possible to devise a consistent philosophical position that explains both the racial and genderic aspects of these statistics? Or are two different theories needed, and if so, what are they?

38 comments:

Steve Perry said...

A bunch of people in prison are there for non-violent crimes 2/3rds, last I looked -- and most of those are drug-related. Some are meth or heroin dealers, but a fair number of those are for possessing or selling marijuana. Or taking pills, snorting coke, and the like.

Part of the problem in the U.S. is that we are so tight-assed that we criminalize things that are victimless.

Guy smoking dope in his house and growing his own? This hurts whom exactly?

Please. That's our Puritan roots that decree nobody ought to be having a good time ...

Anonymous said...

I am or was a professional statistician and can tell you the type of analysis you describe in your comments are utterly worthless. There are sophisticated statistical techniques for determining what factors are actually significant and to what extent. But all candidate factors must be present in the analysis at once. Using just two factors as an example back and poor, the fact that more blacks are incarcerated then whites doesn't mean anything if more blacks are poor than whites and more poor are incarcerated than non poor. You would have break this up into four categories(poor white, poor black, non poor white and non poor black) to look at just these two factors. Now throw in a multitude of other factors like whether those incarcerated lived in an urban, suburban, or rural setting and the difficulty of making anything sensible out of the data without sophisticated techniques and a computer should be clear.

Marty S

Anonymous said...

I agree with Steve P. on that one. In many ways our laws have become tighter and more restrictive when it comes to victimless crime, making more of us criminals now for behavior that would not have been criminal in the past. Go figure. Do that same crime for the 3rd time and you go away for a long long time.

I don't know about a single unified theory to explain all of this. I think it requires a multi-faceted approach. We are, after all, multi-faceted beings. How can we expect to be able to boil something like this down to one theory? We have to address the social issues, the systemic issues, the religious issues, racial issues, class issues, gender issues. The list goes one. There is no 'one size fits all' approach that will fix everything.

That's the problem with out current system. One approach is supposed to fit every situation and it just flat doesn't. That's ovbious, in my book, from the shear numbers of people that are incarcerated. Something ain't workin'.

My personal belief is that it starts at home and in the schools. Positive education and modeling of functional parenting and creating a team of parents and teachers to address things when they come up. What I see now is more of a war between parents and teachers. That needs to change because the kids are losing out.

Anonymous said...

I have a question for those who talk about victimless crimes. Do you consider a crime victimless if it damages only the person committing it or are you talking about crimes that hurt no one including the person performing the act. Because acts by people that hurt themselves and cause them to eventually become a burden on the rest of us are not in my mind victimless.

Marty S

Steven Barnes said...

Most crimes that people consider "victimless" are victimless in the sense that no one else is hurt (supposedly.) Say, drug use, and prostitution. Now, someone can say that if the user is damaged, that's not victimless. But in both cases, some of the damage is caused by the way society REACTS to the "criminal" and is not intrinsic to the behavior itself. Prostitution in the right context can be a spiritual act, or psychologically healing (sexual surrogates). Drug usage would be less damaging if
1) there was less social stigma
2) the drugs cost what their actual value was, rather than the inflated value caused by a black market
3) people understood the best way to use the substances to minimize the damage (eating pot as opposed to smoking it? Using a vaporizor? Not mixing heroin and alcohol? Etc.)
If the actual intent is to "minimize the damage caused by drugs, alcohol, and tobacco" the strategies that maximize results would be very different from "stop people from using illegal drugs." One has to wonder what the actual intent is. Personally, any time I see drinkers or smokers making laws about marijuana or cocaine, it makes me wanna vomit at the utter, raging hypocrisy of it all. In fact, I feel like they are externalizing their own guilt onto others.

Steven Barnes said...

As for doing a four-quadrant comparison (poor whites, poor blacks, rich blacks, rich whites, etc.) those who believe in black inferiority merely would say that wealthy blacks are those with the intelligence to perform, and point the larger percentage of blacks in poverty as evidence of their lack of capacity. I've had this conversation countless times, and people view the information through their own basic attitudes. This is one of the reasons why I talk about meditation and balance so much: a clean perceptual lens still produces people who skew "left" or "right"--but I find that they aren't as dogmatic, don't demonize those who disagree, and can extend empathy and humanity to those who differ by religion, race, or philosophy.

Shawn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shawn said...

My feeling is that it almost all boils down to wealth, but as was pointed out, without the actual data - annual income and race - this is impossible to prove.

Some prisoners are going to have high income because of -illegal- wealth from drug deals, etc. but legally-acquired wealth should map well to prison percentages, both because of higher incentives to perform illegal acts and less ability to defend against charges.

Marty S., your second point regarding victims of their own crimes is somewhat self-contradictory - to avoid letting them burden society with medical needs, you can indeed criminalize the behavior and incarcerate them (in essence still caring for them, including the medical care needed for breaking the addiction/dealing with the side effects.) Which is less of a burden on society, and which is more ethical, then become the questions.

Frank said...

I'm going with drugs.

I think if you legalized most drug use, the prison population would decrease by a substantial and statistically significant amount.

Steve Perry said...

Laws should protect people from each other, not themselves. Yep, you need to take care of the children, but if an adult wants to drink a beer -- once a federal crime in this country -- or smoke a joint, or whack off looking at a Playboy Magazine, such things ought to be their business and not that of the state.

There are still laws in places that mandate anything other than missionary position is sodomy -- even with your legally-wedded spouse.

There are still adultery laws on the books -- two unmarried people sleep together, they can be arrested -- and not just gay couples, heteros.

There are places where attempting suicide is a crime. Please.

The feds and states have made all kinds of things crimes at one time or another where they are malum prohibitum, and not malum in se.
(They are bad because they are illegal, not because they are bad.)

If somebody gets drunk or stoned and drive his car, yes, the state should step in. If somebody hits his wife or molest his kids, yes, nail them.

Long as they are not hurting anybody, what they do at home is nobody's business, certainly not Big Brother's ...

Frank said...

Steve Perry said

The feds and states have made all kinds of things crimes at one time or another where they are malum prohibitum, and not malum in se.
(They are bad because they are illegal, not because they are bad.)


Hey Steve, you sound positively libertarian.

But I couldn't agree more. If a person commits a crime against people or property while on drugs, arrest them for that. Not for the drug crime itself.

Legalize and regulate prostitution so it is not a form of slave trade (hey, they manage in Nevada)

In fact the least intrusion by the government in my life (both personally and economically) the better.

Lynn said...

Just a personal opinion from years of observation -
Men are only more likely to be violent because little boys are encouraged by society to be 'tough'. Sometimes I am outraged by things I overhear parents telling young sons. How horrible that little boys can't just be little boys and play in peace. I don't think it's right that male children are told that they must be big and strong and tough, and then grow up to feel that they are inherently defective because they have done what was expected and what was taught. No baby boy was born to be violent. Those who blame genes and hormones are simply trying to absolve themselves for whatever part their generation or their parents' generation may have played in perpetuating this injustice against men. Of course men are more likely to be the victims of male criminals. Society subtly, but strongly, encourages boys to be aggressive and then condemns them for it. I believe they act out against each other out of the self-hatred that society has put on them. I think this is an abuse of little boys and men. Women and girls are not the only ones abused by the stereotypes in society. Men, please don't put up with this violation anymore! Don't let anyone convince you that you have some inherent evil. This is just a lie.

Anonymous said...

I think I posed my question poorly because I seem to be seen as on one side of the issue. I a think case can be made for criminalizing some actions that only hurt oneself and I think the case can be made on the other side also. I think a related issue is how much of the penalty for an act that society has chosen to designate as criminal has the purpose of punishing the doer and how much is designed to be a deterrent against the act.

Basically, I agree that some crimes like prostitution are archaic and should be wiped from the books. I also would support a law outlawing cigarettes because they are clearly harmful. However these are personal opinions. If one lives in a society one must conform to the rules of the society as long as they are the rules, although if you disagree you should certainly work to change them. Apparently a lot of people disagree with at least some the current rules and thats why they are supporting Obama and his change theme.

Marty S

Josh Jasper said...

I would suggest that the typical liberal answer has to do with a lack of economic opportunity and differential justice.

Nope. Typical liberals know it's the "war on drugs" and asinine sentencing rules.

The thing is, most conservatives (not libertarians, but conservatives) I've met acknowledge it too, but they keep electing conservative politicians who continue to make things worse. It's like they see the problem, but if it doesn't affect them, its not real.

Take John McCain. Think he'll sign any bills to even consider changing the idiocy behind federal minimum sentencing? Obama is the only one in the race who's said he would.

Conservatives really are responsible for the growing prison population. Heck, the prison industrial complex is solidly pro conservative.

There are things you might want to present a balanced view of the liberal/conservative divide, an try and prove that nether side is "right".

This is not one. It's like gay rights. It's an issue that the conservatives are just wrong on, and involved in really hurting people.

Dan Moran said...

Let me throw in a hearty AOLer "me too" with Frank, Josh, and Steve Perry. Send the drug users and non-violent drug sellers home. Et voila -- prison population problems solved.

It's startling to think about how screwed up this country is, and to realize that it's all in the service of companies like Baccardi and RJ Reynolds ... but it's also true. All those young people rotting in jail are there because they competed with the wrong companies....

Steve Perry said...

"I a think case can be made for criminalizing some actions that only hurt oneself ..."

And what might an example of that be? You are going to turn a person who might be neurotic into a criminal? That'll help things how?

I don't need you, nor anybody else to protect me from myself. My life, my business, how is yours in any way? Why should you have the right to decide what I need?

If I'm so sick I might be a danger to others, there are already laws to deal with that. That's why we have mental hospitals.

I did my Objectivist phase when I was eighteen -- we thought the libertarians were pinkos way over there on the left, and I put that mostly behind me when I started living in the Real World. Bits of it stuck -- some of the legal and economic stuff, and the big one about the unjustified use of force being the Big Evil.

All governmental power comes out of the barrel of gun. Always has. The libertarians think people who have power are going to give it up?

The USA has never been a pure anything, and some of the more esoteric philosophies only work if everybody signs on. Not ever gonna happen.

Steve Perry said...

"Those who blame genes and hormones are simply trying to absolve themselves for whatever part their generation or their parents' generation may have played in perpetuating this injustice against men."

The jury isn't in on the nature-versus-nurture argument yet, Lynn. And male hormones do, alas, make a difference. Plenty of studies done showing that testosterone poisoning can affect men who were raised amidst heart and flowers.

Men and women are different.

Personal responsibility doesn't lie entirely with parents; at some point, children grow up and have to deal with life on their own. Violent urges, whatever their genesis, can be overcome.

Dan Moran said...

BTW, Steve Barnes, if by consistency you're looking for a theory that's either pure nature or pure nurture -- c'mon. Life's not that simple, and recognizing this isn't fuzzy thinking, or an inability to follow a train of thought to its end, just a recognition that complexity is real ...

Dan Gambiera said...

Perry's right, of course. But there's something even more pernicious at work. Prisons are big, big business. The rise in incarceration rates tracks the "War on Drugs". It also closely tracks the rise of private prisons and jails. Corrections is a growing share of most States' budgets, and there are huge profits to be made running and most of all supplying the facilities. Those involved in the industry lobby hard to keep jails going up and to fill the ones that are there.

Lynn said...

'Testosterone poisoning' sounds like a medical condition. I'm sure it is possible for a person to have too much or too little of any hormone and have it effect them. That is not the same thing as believing men to be inherently violent. I don't think the jury will ever really be 'in' on this issue unless it is proven that everything is controlled by genetics. The jury will still be out if it is 'proven' otherwise because that would just be uncomfortable and we would wait perpetually for more 'evidence'. Of course men and women are different. We are all different. It is in this way that we can all be so effective together when we are on the same page with a common goal. So many gifts, talents and perspectives to enhance the results.

Violent urges can indeed be overcome. That is because they are not the sole product of genetics and hormones. I have violent urges myself; even being awash in estrogen!

One note about a few people I have known who seemed like they had heart and flower upbringings - it didn't shield them from societal messages. It did mean someone loved them, though. That helps... but - the world was still waiting and the messages still got through with varying degrees of volume. So very many factors are part of the 'nurture' side of the equation. This is why I think people will not be able to accept any 'proof' that would point to nurture being more important than nature. Mapping the huamn genome might be easier than mapping nurture.

Steven Barnes said...

I don't think you can blame "social messages" for behavior found almost universally--that men are more aggressive than women. Eventually, you have to conclude that the social messages followed the behaviors. But yes, society exaggerates it (just as it encourages women to be more "helpless" than the females of any species actually are.)
##
And heck NO I wouldn't expect a theory that explains the male/female black/white thing to come down solidly on the side of Nature or Nurture. It's always going to be a matter of the interaction of the two. But I wouldn't be surprised if someone does have an elegant theory somewhere. Just asking around...

Anonymous said...

Im an ex correctional officer. here's my two cents. There is no one cause or factor, but among people in prison there seems to be a prevalent unifying trait. Many Many inmates that i have talked to all point to others when asked about their crimes. Its more than every prisoner being innocent. Its almost every prisoner has a reason why "x" rule or law does not apply to them. "laws are fine for everyone else but im special" Steve you may think some laws stink but you probably are prepared to face the consequences if you break them. my personal example speeding todays modern cars can handle greater speed than posted speed limits safely but if im pulled over im willing pay the fine. Ive had one individual bemoan the rise of cell phones because "nosey" people were calling the cops too quickly when he would try to rob someone. the concept that he shouldnt rob people?. I know but.....

langdon

Frank said...

Dan Gambiera said

Prisons are big, big business.

This is an important consideration, especially with regards to the Prison Guards Unions who have fought decriminalization of many laws.

In California, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is a huge and powerful union that contributes to many political campaigns. Right now they are fighting to have more minors prosecuted as adults.

Their focus, obviously, is to increase their membership. And you increase the membership by having more criminals, not fewer.

Anonymous said...

My brother in-law was a drug addict. I saw what it did to him. I am not in favor of anybody else going through that. He finally went through a methadone program and got off drugs, but could never regain the lost years and lost opportunities. Now what's the case for making the this hurt yourself action hand selling drugs a crime. Well until we legalize drugs and see what that does to the drug population we won't know. But I strongly suspect that if we start selling drugs cheap at the local supermarket that we will end up with a lot more drug addicts.
On the big business issue that's so popularly blamed for everything. Its a wonderful boogie man to blame everything on. For instance the reason we have so many of our kids on drugs is that the pharmaceutical companies pushed for the legalization of drugs and selling drugs. It was all about money when they backed that legislation.

Marty S

Anonymous said...

"my personal example speeding todays modern cars can handle greater speed than posted speed limits safely but if im pulled over im willing pay the fine"

I have to comment on this statement for two reasons. One it provides a great example of improper data analysis and two the ability of cars to handle a speed has little to do with the safety of that speed.

1) Back in the seventies during the oil embargo many highway speeds were
cut from 65 to 55 to conserve gas. Organizations who always wanted to cut speeds from 65 examined data from the period and found that deaths per mile driven had dropped and used this keep the speed limits from being raised again. A later analysis broke the data into four groups, Professional drivers, commuters, adult leisure, and under 25. This analysis showed the death rate per mile driven in each group hadn't changed within each group. What had changed was the number of miles different groups drove. The long lines at the gas pump and increased prices didn't have much affect on the miles driven by professionals and commuters, who have the better safety numbers, but cut way down on the miles driven by the other two groups with the worse accident record. This lowered the overall numbers.

2)Safety on a highway is a function of relative speed. Going 10 miles an hour faster or slower than the typical car on the road is equally dangerous. The greater the difference in speed between you and another car the less reaction time both the driver and the car have.

Marty S

mjholt said...

Steve Perry is right. If you look at the prison statistics for WA St. you will see that there are a number of men (primarily, but I do not know their race) who are serving 30 to 50 year sentences for marijuana use. Some of these people have been in prison since the 70's or 80's, and I have a hard time figuring out how they can be integrated back into society, albeit I would prefer that happen.

For a while marijuana use garnered a longer sentence than child rape. It still may.

I, for one, am exhausted by paying huge taxes to support a huge victimless criminal prison population. Frank said that prisons are big business. Of course they are. This is why I believe all prisons should have to be run by governments -- perhaps it would be harder to hide the real costs.

One irony, I am told, is that under the Bushs 41 & 43, the guns for drugs triangle set up in the Reagan administration by Oliver North was revitalized, while under Clinton it was suppressed. I have no first hand knowledge, and not even good second-hand knowledge. Does anyone know about this? I would have to assume that more drugs were imported into the US because of this.

As for personal lack or responsibility in the prison population: Sounds like par for the course in society in general. I rarely hear people take responsibility for any thing, including people who will take credit for someone else's work. If you want to knock someone's argument against you out from under them, take responsibility and apologize. They have been so busy building their case they can barely respond. Shirking responsibility is a national pass time.

That more blacks are charged and convicted than whites is racism. I understand that in some areas of the US Hispanic male numbers in prison rival blacks. The racism is socially corrosive and creates a self-fulfilling prophesy situation.

Part of my time is spent in a predominantly (90% maybe) white area, and I have seem enough white boys on meth and alcohol, and this makes them violent, which moves their crimes from being a victimless to victim-filled crime. I will pay for their incarceration. This area seems to create poor white trash, so I am willing to embrace that some black neighborhoods create the black equivalent. We are social creatures, us humans, and we norm to our social surroundings.

If, however, drugs are legalized -- or decriminalized, I would like to see legislation that makes it easy for an employer to fire a drunk or drugged employee: you are drunk or high, bam, you are fired, because these people are a danger to those working with them.

Steve Perry said...

Langdon --

Sure, I know Baretta's Dictum -- if you can't do the time, don't do the crime. (Unless, of course, you have a good lawyer like Robert Blake, who played the character ...)

But that doesn't excuse the fact that our society likes to look over your shoulder when you are doing things that isn't anybody's business but yours. We're a largely Christian country, still upwards of 75% of Americans identify themselves that way, and our laws are based on the Ten Commandments.

Which, as rules to live by, aren't bad. I don't see the one that says Thou shalt not smoke dope, though. Nor Thou shalt not engage in any sex that doesn't result in procration, either -- though you get some argument on the latter.
Look what happened to Onan ...

That a bunch of Puritains decided these things because they considered them wrong is how it went. That doesn't make it right.
We have laws that basically say if the Feds don't like you, they can stick you into prison forever, no trial, and fuck you very much. They are in the anti-terrorism section of stepped-too-far-over-the-line, next to the ones that let them tap your phone, peek into your windows, and find out which books you checked out of the library.

Big Brother is watching you. You don't think so? Stand up in an airport and say Allah ackbar and see what happens to you. Or ask somebody who has ever been pulled over for DWB.

Lynn said...

Happy Birthday, Steve Barnes!!

I think it is the societal pressure along with specific circumstances that makes testosterone into *violence* instead of *strength*. I like hearing your take and Steve Perry's, though, as I am not a man and these theories of mine are only what I have gathered from specific individuals I have known intimate details about and have had the opportunity to observe over time. I even like hearing from other women who observe, because we are all observing different people.

Frank said...

Steve Perry said

We have laws that basically say if the Feds don't like you, they can stick you into prison forever, no trial, and fuck you very much.

Um, no. We don't.

Josh Jasper said...

Steve Perry: Big Brother is watching you. You don't think so? Stand up in an airport and say Allah ackbar and see what happens to you.

Airport? Heck, your phone calls are (were?) being listened to without a warrant.

Steve Perry said...

Really, Frank?

Four words:

Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Steve Perry said...

Or, go back a few years to the concentration camps in California, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, wherein the west coast Japanese were interned. Not forever, just for the duration. Rounded up if they were 1/16th Japanese, herded into the camps, kept there under armed guard until WWII was over. People were born, lived, and died in the camps, and as the liberal Chief-Justice-of-the-Supreme-Court-to-be, then the AG of California, Earl Warren said, "To hell with habeas corpus."

Many of these people were born in the USA -- were citizens, played baseball, didn't speak Japanese. That didn't matter.

Sure, people were afraid of a Fifth Column. Didn't happen.

Fear always gives the same excuse, and it was pure racism -- you didn't see second and third generation Italians and Germans rounded up.

Frank said...

Steve Perry said

Four words:

Guantanamo Bay detention camp.


Three words: No US Citizens. (OK so may that's four)

And Guantanamo Bay has nothing whatsoever to do with "anti-terrorism" laws by which I take it you mean the Patriot Act.

Or, go back a few years to the concentration camps in California, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, wherein the west coast Japanese were interned.

Yeah, well, FDR is a hero to the left. Too bad Jonah Goldberg hadn't written his book yet.

Still, this could happen again which is why the Patriot Act is so important. I guaran-ass-tee you if a Beslan incident occurs in the US, people, not the government but everyday people, will be demanding Muslims are rounded up and put in internment camps.

This would be the worst of all possible outcomes.

Steve Perry said...

With all due respect, Frank, the Patriot Act is pretty much an abomination from my viewpoint, and can certainly be used to bludgeon anybody they damned well please.

Phone company stomps all over you civil rights to run a wire on you? Too bad. Can't sue 'em.

Don't have anything to say when they haul you in? The AG hasn't ruled out waterboarding, even if the CIA has tossed it.

If you trust your government to behave, regardless of which party is in power, you are naive.

Frank said...

Steve Perry said

the Patriot Act is pretty much an abomination from my viewpoint

Fine, but it has nothing to do with Guantanamo and it does not abrogate habeas corpus for US citizens accused of any crime including terrorism and treason.

The Patriot Act, for all intents and purposes is RICO for terrorists and pretty much allows Law Enforcement to do the same types of things that were allowed to break organized crime. Seems like we should be able to do the same for terrorists.

Phone company stomps all over you civil rights to run a wire on you? Too bad. Can't sue 'em.

You know, there is rule of thumb we've used since I started using on-line communications (that would be 1980): if you don't want it to be public, don't put it on the 'net. Phones should be handled in precisely the same way, with or without the Patriot Act.

Perhaps you forgot how, in 1996 (that would be pre-Patriot Act) two Democrat operatives, John and Alice Martin, were Christmas shopping and just happened to have a cell phone scanner and tape recorder and just happened to intercept a phone call between Newt Gingrich and John Bonner, neither of whom are terrorists.

The airways are generally not secure and unless you know for sure you are on a secure line, you'd best just keep your little sensitive information to yourself.

If you trust your government to behave, regardless of which party is in power, you are naive.

Clearly I don't trust the government to behave. Yet we have to rely upon the government to protect us from global threats. Hence the conundrum.

The government has to operate within the law. And we have mechanisms in place to provide oversight. For now I trust the oversight. I trust less the rhetoric that comes out of politicians.

I trust that most, despite their rhetoric, really do not want to see our country harmed. And so when the Patriot Act is passed, not once, not twice, but three times by a majority in both parties, I deem that significant.

Further, I judge that we really are threatened by Islamists who want to attempt another large scale attack in the US. And it is a quirk of global communication infrastructure that the US is the communications nexus of the world and even if a phone call or internet communication both originates and terminates outside the US, it winds up going through the US. So we need a way to deal with that. Under the law. So oversight can be applied.

And since I judge that law enforcement really is focused on terrorists, I am pretty damn sure they are not taking the time to monitor my phone calls. And even if they did, there wouldn't be much of interest.

Now what is the real concern about monitoring communications? Clearly the only concern is that the government was monitoring my political speech for the purpose of suppressing opposition opinions. Because no one would defend privacy to mask a crime, right?

Well, that being said, when I start seeing people being hauled away for expressing opposing political opinions, then I will begin to rethink how well oversight is working.

But when I look around at all the kooks, paranoids, and just plain uninformed people saying pretty much any crazy thing that comes into their vacuous heads without any sort of repercussion; I judge that we are safe in this regard for now.

So: So far so good under the Republicans. We'll see what happens with the Democrats....

Paul Gibbons said...

Frank said...
Steve Perry said....
"The feds and states have made all kinds of things crimes at one time or another where they are malum prohibitum, and not malum in se.
(They are bad because they are illegal, not because they are bad.)"

"Hey Steve, you sound positively libertarian."

What's wrong with that? Libertarians believe in the non-aggression principle.

"In fact the least intrusion by the government in my life (both personally and economically) the better."

Yes, everyone seems willing to go along with the IDEA expressed as "the government governs best that governs least", but when it comes to parsing out what that statement really MEANS, that NO government would be best of all, people can't handle the truth. They look around them at a largely peaceful society, most violence really appears where government intrudes in people's lives, and exclaim that the government is an ab-solute necessity. I would ask anyone on this board to show me using facts, logic and reason how any government can exist without violating Jefferson's 'self evident truth' that we are ALL CREATED EQUAL.
Your witness....

Steve Perry said...

Paul --

That's an easy one: Jefferson, for all his smarts, was wrong. We aren't all created equal.

Does anybody really believe that?

Some of us are faster, smarter, better-looking. Some of us are born poor, some rich, some handicapped.

Under the law, we should be treated as equal, but that's never happened, and never will.

Somebody has always got to be the nigger. Until people change the most basic ways they look at the world and function in it, down past the tribal level, that's how it is going to work.

And while I gripe at the U.S. government and some of the dolts who have been chosen to run it, it's still head and shoulders above what most of the world lives under.

Libertarianism won't work because it needs everybody to be participants. If people won't play, how does that system deal with them? If you have laws, they must be enforced. If you have prisons or executions, how do you deem who gets to decide how and when to apply them? Private company can physically assault recalcitrant prisoners? Execute murderers?

Go ahead, open that can of worms. Gonna be some ugly wrigglers looking up at you in there.

Unjustified use of force is the core of libertarian no-no's. The justification comes from the guys what have the biggest guns. Always has.

I'd love to live in the valley and sing Kumbayah, but we -- as species -- aren't ready yet. Look around. You see peace breaking out all over?

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