NEW YORK — For the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report documenting America’s rank as the world’s No. 1 incarcerator. It urges states to curtail corrections spending by placing fewer low-risk offenders behind bars.
Using state-by-state data, the report says 2,319,258 Americans were in jail or prison at the start of 2008 — one out of every 99.1 adults. Whether per capita or in raw numbers, it’s more than any other nation.
The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.
The steadily growing inmate population “is saddling cash-strapped states with soaring costs they can ill afford and failing to have a clear impact either on recidivism or overall crime,” the report said.
Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, said budget woes are pressuring many states to consider new, cost-saving corrections policies that might have been shunned in the recent past for fear of appearing soft on crime.
“We’re seeing more and more states being creative because of tight budgets,” she said in an interview. “They want to be tough on crime. They want to be a law-and-order state. But they also want to save money, and they want to be effective.”
The report cited Kansas and Texas as states that have acted decisively to slow the growth of their inmate population. They are making greater use of community supervision for low-risk offenders and employing sanctions other than reimprisonment for offenders who commit technical violations of parole and probation rules.
“The new approach, born of bipartisan leadership, is allowing the two states to ensure they have enough prison beds for violent offenders while helping less dangerous lawbreakers become productive, taxpaying citizens,” the report said.
While many state governments have shown bipartisan interest in curbing prison growth, there also are persistent calls to proceed cautiously.
“We need to be smarter,” said David Muhlhausen, a criminal justice expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation. “We’re not incarcerating all the people who commit serious crimes. But we’re also probably incarcerating people who don’t need to be.”
According to the report, the inmate population increased last year in 36 states and the federal prison system.
The largest percentage increase — 12 percent — was in Kentucky, where Gov. Steve Beshear highlighted the cost of corrections in his budget speech last month. He noted that the state’s crime rate had increased only about 3 percent in the past 30 years, while the state’s inmate population has increased by 600 percent.
The report was compiled by the Pew Center’s Public Safety Performance Project, which is working with 13 states on developing programs to divert offenders from prison without jeopardizing public safety.
“Getting tough on criminals has gotten tough on taxpayers,” said the project’s director, Adam Gelb.
According to the report, the average annual cost per prisoner was $23,876, with Rhode Island spending the most ($44,860) and Louisiana the least ($13,009). It said California — which faces a $16 billion budget shortfall — spent $8.8 billion on corrections last year, while Texas, which has slightly more inmates, was a distant second with spending of $3.3 billion.
On average, states spend 6.8 percent of their general fund dollars on corrections, the report said. Oregon had the highest spending rate, at 10.9 percent; Alabama the lowest at 2.6 percent.
Four states — Vermont, Michigan, Oregon and Connecticut — now spend more on corrections than they do on higher education, the report said.
“These sad facts reflect a very distorted set of national priorities,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, referring to the full report. “Perhaps, if we adequately invested in our children and in education, kids who now grow up to be criminals could become productive workers and taxpayers.”
The report said prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect an increase in the nation’s overall population. Instead, it said, more people are behind bars mainly because of tough sentencing measures, such as “three-strikes” laws, that result in longer prison stays.
“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.
The nationwide figures, as of Jan. 1, include 1,596,127 people in state and federal prisons and 723,131 in local jails. That’s out of almost 230 million American adults.
The report said the United States incarcerates more people than any other nation, far ahead of more populous China with 1.5 million people behind bars. It said the U.S. also is the leader in inmates per capita (750 per 100,000 people), ahead of Russia (628 per 100,000) and other former Soviet bloc nations which round out the Top 10.
The U.S. also is among the world leaders in capital punishment. According to Amnesty International, its 53 executions in 2006 were exceeded only by China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan.
You put your trust in the state because it filters out complexities of life you either cannot manage on your own or see no need to. Why do people obey unjust laws? Because — for the majority, in most cases — it’d be a whole lot more problematic and chaotic without the system there. I may recognize that a war we’re involved in is unjust, but I don’t attempt to overthrow the government because the state simplifies my life in ways that more directly affect me.
Well. I, for one, know that if I were an Iraqi child, I would be happy to die so that Jason Smathers can live a simpler life.
Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life?
Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against lonliness and methamphetamine addiction in a quiet American suburb.
William F. Buckley Jr., who foundedNational Review and did more than any other intellectual to create a conservative alliance between traditionalists and libertarians (an achievement that seems more impressive with each passing day),died this morning at the age of 82. I think my first introduction to Buckley was through David Frye’s impersonation of him on I Am the President, so for me he was part of a pantheon of important political figures with distinctive voices from early on. I vividly remember watching a 60 Minutes interview with Buckley in the 1970s and being struck by how much he seemed to relish intellectual combat while remaining calm, polite, and self-assured, traits that also came through in his long-running PBS talk show Firing Line. For left-liberals, I realized, he was a house-broken conservative, witty, learned, and cordial even while espousing horrifying opinions. Although many of today’s most conspicuous conservatives eschew that role, Buckley’s dignified, thoughtful approach earned the conservative movement mainstream credibility and may even have persuaded a few people, instead of simply stirring up the mob.
In the early 1990s I worked for Buckley at National Review, although by that time he was not much involved in the day-to-day running of the magazine. He would see us at the editorial meetings every two weeks and treat us to lunch at a neighborhood Italian restaurant he favored. In conversation he was always sharp but gentlemanly. At one of those post-meeting meals I remarked that there was something to be said for the Articles of Confederation. “Yes,” Buckley replied with a sly smile, taking a slug of red wine, “but not much.” This formulation, which allowed for continued argument but also let me drop the subject without embarrassment, was of a piece with his confident but laid-back intellectual style.
As for substance, Buckley often called himself a libertarian; the subtitle of Happy Days Were Here Again, his 1993 collection of columns and articles, was “Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist.” Buckley represented the classical liberal strain of modern American conservatism often enough that his endorsement of statist schemes such as “national service” (or, more recently, tobacco prohibition) caused real dismay. He especially endeared himself to libertarians with his courageous and persistent criticism of the war on drugs, a stance that continues to distinguishNational Review from other conservative organs. Although Buckley’s support for repealing drug prohibition grew more out of pragmatic concerns than a principled commitment to individual freedom, his prolific writings usually reflected skepticism of government intervention. In recent years this skepticism drove him to question another war popular with conservatives, one that could prove to be as long-lived as the war on drugs, if John McCain has anything to say about it. Buckley, in short, admirably combined an ability to fuse the disparate elements of the conservative coalition with a willingness to break them apart when he thought the stakes were high enough.
Rosen’s story contains some anti-conventional wisdom assertions that are sure to make many spit their juice, for example:
“In Saddam’s time, nobody knew what is Sunni and what is Shiite,” [Iraqi National Police Capt. Arkan Hashim Ali] says. The Bush administration based its strategy in Iraq on the mistaken notion that, under Saddam, the Sunni minority ruled the Shiite majority. In fact, Iraq had no history of serious sectarian violence or civil war between the two groups until the Americans invaded. Most Iraqis viewed themselves as Iraqis first, with their religious sects having only personal importance. Intermarriage was widespread, and many Iraqi tribes included both Sunnis and Shiites….
The story is also belly-up vulnerable to accusations that it’s only focusing on the scary side of the complicated reality of Iraq. Still, it’s well worth a long look for those trying to collect as much data as possible about what America is facing and might soon be facing in Iraq.
The general arc of Rosen’s piece: as Rosen follows various Iraqi and U.S. security forces around on raids, he insists that the Sunni militias known as either “Iraqi Security Volunteers” or Sahwa (“The Awakening”) are another civil war waiting to happen, loyal only as long as the Yankee dollars keep flowing; Iraqis smile to our troops’ faces but behind our backs they hiss: what are troops like you doing in a nation like this? And contempt for the U.S. occupying force is only matched by contempt for the official Iraq government.
A few key excerpts:
After meeting recently in Baghdad, U.S. officials concluded in an internal report, “Most young Concerned Local Citizens would probably not agree to transition from armed defenders of their communities to the local garbage men or rubble cleanup crew working under the gaze of U.S. soldiers and their own families.”
As the soldiers storm into nearby homes, the two men who had tipped off the Americans come up to me, thinking I am a military translator. They look bemused. The Americans, they tell me in Arabic, have got the wrong men. The eleven squatting in the courtyard are all Sunnis, not Shiites; some are even members of the Awakening and had helped identify the Mahdi Army suspects.
I try to tell the soldiers they’ve made a mistake — it looks like the Iraqis had been trying to connect a house to a generator — but the Americans don’t listen. All they see are the wires on the ground: To them, that means the Iraqis must have been trying to lay an improvised explosive device. “If an IED is on the ground,” one tells me, “we arrest everybody in a 100-meter radius.” As the soldiers blindfold and handcuff the eleven Iraqis, the two tipsters look on, puzzled to see U.S. troops arresting their own allies.
The [Iraqi National Police] were also reporting fake engagements and then transferring to Shiite militias the ammunition they had supposedly fired. “It was funny how they always expended 400 rounds of ammunition,” [Maj. Jeffrey] Gottlieb [who trains Iraqi police] says.
The Americans know that the entire raid may have been simply another witch hunt, a way for the Shiite police to intimidate Sunni civilians. The INP, U.S. officers concede, use Al Qaeda as a “scare word” to describe all Sunni suspects.
“Yeah, the moral ambiguity of what we do is not lost on me,” Maj. Gottlieb tells me. “We have no way of knowing if those guys did what they say they did.”
The Difference Between an Illegal Immigrant and Me A Little Memoir and Some Questions It Raises February 20, 2008 Robert Higgs
I was born in what the local rulers represented to be the sovereign state of Oklahoma. This circumstance was not my fault. I suppose I might blame my parents, but they had a similar excuse, my father having been born in the same jurisdiction and my mother having been brought there as an infant. In any event, by virtue of my birthplace, I became a citizen of that state and, as such, I bore a heavy burden of misfortune.
Our part of Oklahoma, you see, was not exactly at the cutting edge of economic and social development in those days. Good jobs were not easy to find, and even a resourceful workingman who was willing to labor long and hard, as my father was, could not earn much. Many of the schools were primitive. When I began the first grade, in 1950, the school comprised about fifty students in grades 1–8. My first-grade class met in a little shack along with the second-grade class, while the rest of the students met in a larger, one-room building with a removable divider in the middle of the room. With the divider put in place, grades 3–5 met on one side of it, grades 6–8 on the other side. Three teachers made up the entire staff, except for the cook, who happened to be my mom. I won’t say that I couldn’t possibly have remained in that environment and still become an astronaut. Maybe I could have. But the odds did not look promising.
For a time during the war, when I was an infant, my father had taken the family to Portland, Oregon, where he worked in one of Kaiser’s shipyards as a welder until the war ended. So he had tasted the sweet nectar of West Coast wages. Of course, after the war, such elevated wages were no longer available for the asking, yet West Coast wages still stood well above those in Oklahoma, as my father knew from the accounts of friends who had migrated to California earlier and sent back glowing reports.
In 1951, a old friend of my father’s who worked on a ranch near Mendota, California, a dusty little town 35 miles west of Fresno, arranged for the ranch owner to hire my father and my older brother as tractor drivers during the summer—my father had several months of accumulated vacation time. So the family packed a few of our belongings and headed west on Route 66, as so many Okies before us had done during the previous twenty years.
Reaching our destination at the Encher Ranch, we moved into a small living area walled off at the end of a larger structure built originally as a bunkhouse for immigrant Japanese workers before the war. There was no extra charge for the outdoor toilets and showers. In those days, such labor camps dotted the San Joaquin Valley thickly, housing not only the migrant Okies, Texans, and other wretched refuse of the Dust Bowl, but also an abundance of migrant Mexicans. A sprinkling of Italians, Portuguese, Basque, Chinese, and Japanese spiced the area’s population.
At the end of the summer, my father’s work having proved more than satisfactory to the employer, and the wages more than satisfactory to my father, we returned briefly to Oklahoma, arranged for the shipment of our household belongings, such as they were, and moved back to California permanently.
Lest you wonder about the point of this mundane little narrative, I hasten to emphasize that my father had done something quite remarkable: he had left the sovereign state of Oklahoma, crossed the sovereign states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and entered into and established permanent residence in the sovereign state of California, all without the permission of any of the rulers of these states. Imagine that!
Ho-hum, you say; any American can do the same whenever he wants. Well, yes, that’s true. But Americans can do so only because the sovereign states that belong to the federal umbrella state known as the United States of America have worked out a system of essentially unimpeded cross-border passages, and their laws recognize that in general anyone with permission from the U.S. authorities to be in the United States may move freely within the constituent states of the union. No law forbade my father to leave Oklahoma without approval by the Oklahoma government, and no law forbade him to enter California without approval by the California government. (Earlier, in 1937, California did enact a statute that became known as the “anti-Okie law,” aimed at preventing certain Americans from entering the state, but the law was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1941 in Edwards v. California [314 U.S. 160].)
Many of the Mexican children with whom I grew up might have told a tale similar to mine. The only difference would have been that for them, the origin of their migration to California happened to be not one of the states of the United States of America, commonly known as America, but one of the states of the United Mexican States, commonly known as Mexico. Was this difference important? If so, why? Do the lines that government officials draw on maps sever the heart of humanity?
It may not be entirely beside the point to note that the area in which my family settled in 1951 had previously been part of Mexico, from the time of Mexico’s independence until its leaders were coerced into signing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended what the Mexicans aptly call la Intervención Norteamericana (the War of North American Invasion). As the spoils of this war, the U.S. government snatched not only the whole of present-day California, but also all of present-day Nevada and Utah, most of present-day Arizona, and substantial parts of present-day New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. Recall this history the next time you hear someone talking about the current Mexican “invasion” of the United States. If only the Americans under General Winfield Scott’s command in 1847 had invaded Vera Cruz to pick lettuce, rather than to kill the local people.
To return to my story, however, the undeserved misfortunate that many of my childhood comrades suffered sprang from the simple, morally irrelevant fact that the government officials who ruled the states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and others included in the thirty-one states of the Mexican union had not entered into the same agreement that the government officials who ruled Oklahoma, Texas, California, and others included in the (then) forty-eight states of the United States of America had made with regard to state border crossings.
From time to time, people of my acquaintance were rounded up and deported, as if they were criminals. What was their crime? Picking cotton? If so, then I was guilty, too, because when I was growing up, many of the ranchers had yet to switch from Okies and Mexicans to mechanical pickers, and by the time I was eleven or twelve years old, I could fill a 12-foot sack and, having weighed my pickings, haul it up the ladder like a man to empty its contents into the cotton trailer.
So far as I was ever aware, the deportations pleased nobody: neither the unlucky individuals wrenched from their homes and places of employment; nor the ranchers and other business owners who readily hired these hardworking people; nor the rest of us, whose relations with the Mexicans were generally cooperative and cordial. La Migra—the immigration officers—was like a natural disaster. These obnoxious state functionaries descended on the community like a plague or a swarm of locusts, benefiting no one, yet collecting salaries at public expense for their mischief. I knew one young man who was deported several times, and each time he returned after a short while. He took special offense at these costly disruptions of his life because, in fact, he had been born in California, but he lacked official documentation of his birthplace.
If you are not familiar with immigration enforcement, here’s an introduction, for which we are indebted to Pat Mora, whose poem “La Migra” begins:
Anti-immigrationists often say that the Mexicans come here only to go on welfare. Aside from this declaration’s manifest misrepresentation of the truth, one wonders why the obvious remedy for this alleged problem does not occur to them: get rid of welfare—after all, nobody, regardless of his place of birth, has a just right to live at other people’s coerced expense.
Others claim that the “illegals” crowd the public schools and hospitals, sucking resources away from the taxpayers. If so, then the answer is the same: get the government out of the business of schooling and healing; it ought never to have gone there in the first place.
Some Americans clothe their hatred with the charge that the foreigners who come here commit crimes, such as selling drugs and conducting businesses without a license. Of course, drug peddling and working without a government license ought never to have been criminalized in the first place, for anybody, because these acts violate no one’s just rights. If people are worried about real crimes, such as robbery and murder, they need to recall that laws against these crimes already exist, and no special “preemptive war” against potential immigrant offenders can be justified, any more than I can justify nuking Philadelphia today on the strength of my absolute conviction that some residents of that city will commit serious crimes tomorrow.
I attended public schools in California from the second grade until my graduation from high school, and later, after a year at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, I attended institutions of public higher education there, graduating from San Francisco State College in 1965 and then attending the University of California at Santa Barbara for a year of graduate study before going on to greener pastures at Johns Hopkins (a so-called private university whose entanglements with the Pentagon you’d best not look into, if you wish to retain your faith in “private” universities).
Whether my father paid any more in taxes to the state of California, its subsidiary governments, and the school district than our Mexican neighbors paid I greatly doubt. Everybody, regardless of his birthplace or documentation, paid excise, gasoline, and general sales taxes whenever he made certain purchases. Everybody, regardless of his birthplace or documentation, paid the property tax (indirectly) whenever he rented a house or apartment. Everybody, regardless of his birthplace or documentation, paid fees for driver’s licenses, hunting licenses, bridge tolls, and other privileges the state graciously permitted the peasantry to enjoy for a price.
Of course, because my father never earned an enormous salary, he might well have paid less in taxes than the cost of my education in the California schools; who knows? If so, should I have been kicked out of the state and deported—sent, as they say, “back where [I] came from”? Was my family sponging off the longsuffering taxpayers of California any less than the Mexican family down the road from us? And what difference does it make where the sponger comes from? Isn’t the sponging itself the heart of the matter? Do the self-styled “Minutemen” who undertook recently to “secure the border” with Mexico swat only the mosquitos that have hatched on the south side of the Rio Grande?
If we must choose—and indeed we must—between the world’s most powerful and aggressive state, on the one hand, and a man who wishes to move to Yakima to support his family by picking apples, on the other hand, which side does human decency dictate that we choose? Unfortunately, in this situation, it is all too plain that many Americans are choosing to worship the state and to make a fetish of the borders it has established by patently unjust means. As for this wandering Okie, I’d sooner prostrate myself before a golden calf.
Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy for The Independent Institute and Editor of the Institute’s quarterly journal The Independent Review. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Johns Hopkins University, and he has taught at the University of Washington, Lafayette College, Seattle University, and the University of Economics, Prague. He has been a visiting scholar at Oxford University and Stanford University, and a fellow for the Hoover Institution and the National Science Foundation. He is the author of many books, including Depression, War, and Cold War.
Here is something that I wrote a couple years ago about the State and its efforts to protect the hell out of us all whether we want it to or not:
The State is, as Catharine MacKinnon says, male in the political sense. But not only because the law views women’s civil status through the lens of male supremacy (although it certainly does). It is also because the male-dominated State relates to all of its subjects like a battering husband relates to thehousehold of which he has proclaimed himself the head: by laying a claim to protect those who did not ask for it, and using whatever violence and intimidation may be necessary to terrorize them into submitting to his protection. The State, as the abusive head of the whole nation, assaults the innocent, and turns a blind eye to assaults of the innocent, when it suits political interest — renamednational interest by the self-proclaimed representatives of the nation. It does so not because of the venality or incompetance of a particular ruler, but rather because that is what State power means, and that is what the job of a ruler is: to maintain a monopoly of coercion over its territorial area, as a good German might tell you, and to beat, chain, burn, or kill anyone within or without who might endanger that, whether by defying State rule, or by simply ignoring it and asking to be left alone.
I didn’t mean the analogy between government protection and domestic violence quite this literally, but, well, here we are.
This is how government cops protect you: by beating the shit out of a suspect woman after she’s already been handcuffed, turning off the camera so that they won’t be caught on tape doing it, and then claiming that she ended up lying a pool of her own blood in the middle of the room, with two black eyes, a broken nose, and missing teeth, was that she tried to leave the room and fell and hurt herself in the process. Besides, even if he did, she was belligerent (which, since there’s no evidence of her trying to use physical force against the cop at any point, is cop-speak for mouthing off).
Please note that the explicit reason for this violent creep handcuffing her, slamming her up against the wall, and then beating the hell out of her was that there are rules you have to follow (where there are is cop-speak for I make, and you have to means or else), which rules absolutely require that you keep her in a tiny room no matter what, by any means necessary, and don’t set aside your paperwork for even a moment so that she can call her somebody to let them know where she is, no matter how easy it would be for you to do so and no matter how quickly that would de-escalate an extremely stressful situation.
Please also note that, because Wiley Willis is a cop and his victim, Angela Garbarino, is not, so far the only consequences that this violent sociopath — who had already been named in at least two unrelated brutality complaints in the past two years — is that he was given a paid vacation for three months, and then finally lost his job after an administrative hearing. But in the view of other Shreveport cops, Willis deserves this proverbial walk around the block because After reviewing the evidence, we decided it was something that needed to be handled internally and that it was not enough to pursue criminal charges. Nowadays, thanks to the concerted struggle of our feminist foremothers to reform the police and courts’ handling of violence against women, if any man who didn’t sport a badge and a uniform had been alone in a closed room with a woman who ended up getting hurt so bad she needed to be hospitalized, with a video clearly showing him shoving her around, handcuffing her, slamming her against the wall, and then deliberately turning the tape off up until she ended up bruised and bleeding, that man would be in jail right now on charge of assault and battery. Even without such comprehensive evidence almost any court would long ago have issued a restraining order against the violent pig. I’ll bet that there are a lot of people in Shreveport who wish they could get one of those against Wiley Willis and the paramilitary force that employed him.
In the YouTube comments thread, you can find the usual sado-fascist bully brigade of police enablers, one of whom summarizes the situation as follows:
She was very cooperative when the officer was polite to her and did not yell or demand anything…Yah right! Saying the word Miss and Mam didnt do any good. She decided to get drunk and stupid, not follow directions, would jerk away,and thought she was in charge. When she got arrested she needed to shut her cock-holster! The officer cant make her take the test. All he had to do was state she refused to take the test and be done with it. She got the best of him because now she will get paid.
she’s a woman. act like a lady or get treated like a man. she got much better treatment than a man would even after she kept disobeying
His conclusion (and I am quoting): the b(((* was asking for it.
I wasn’t there, nor have I ever been to Abu Ghraib; therefore, I am not qualified to offer expert analysis as to the events that occurred at either. However, I do know that making generalizations about humans placed in a position of power and authority over others is grossly unfair to the many who serve our nation.
… Maybe the handling of Ms. Steffey was not properly conducted; maybe it was. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I do know that Sheriff Swanson has requested outside assistance from the Ohio attorney general’s office in investigating the incident, and I am willing to await its findings before I make judgment.
Should the investigation prove that the deputies involved did abuse their authority, I will then consider them responsible individually. I will not hold every human being in a position of authority, or every deputy in the sheriff’s office, accountable for the actions of a few.
McClelland’s position on the particular case — which he fraudulently passes off as a critical suspension of judgment, when in fact it is nothing more than overt denialism toward obvious abuse captured on film — is objectionable enough by itself. But what’s even more foolish, and extremely dangerous in the long run, is the notion that a tightly-organized class of people, who exercise such a tremendous advantage over the rest of us in both physical force and legal power, ought to be given every benefit of the doubt when they’re accused of hurting people that they willingly chose to put under their legally-backed and heavily-armed power, and that the basic institutional structures which back up their power cannot be called into question without unfair generalization or stereotyping. When every fucking week brings another story of a Few More Bad Apples causing Yet Another Isolated Incident, and the police department almost invariably doing everything in its power to conceal, excuse, or minimize the violence, even in defiance of the evidence of the senses and no matter how obviously harmless or helpless the victim may be, it defies reason to keep on claiming that there is no systemic problem here. What you have is one of two things: either a professionalized system of control which tacitly permits and encourages cops to exercise this kind of rampant, repeated, intense, and unrepentant abuse against powerless people, or else a system which has clearly demonstrated that it can do nothing effectual to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.
While researching my column for this week (about Barack Obama’s position on gun control), I came across this lame response from Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, to the recent shootings at Northern Illinois University (NIU):
Do we give up and say we can’t do anything about these tragedies? Or do we take common-sense steps today to make it harder for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons?…
Over the years, the Brady Campaign has proposed numerous common-sense measures to reduce and prevent gun violence. It may be difficult to stop “suicide shooters” like the Northern Illinois University killer, but there are steps we can take as a nation.
We can require background checks for every gun transaction in America. Current Federal law requires that only Federally licensed gun dealers do a computer check on the criminal backgrounds of purchasers who buy guns from them. Yet there is no such restriction on unlicensed sellers who sell guns at gun shows, from the trunk of their cars or at their kitchen tables. If we want to make it harder to dangerous people to get dangerous weapons, we must close this loophole, and require that all gun buyers undergo a background check.
We can limit bulk purchases of handguns to cut down on the illegal gun trade. Gun buyers currently have no Federal limits on the number of guns they can buy at one time. Gun traffickers take advantage of the unlimited number of guns they can purchase at a time in order to sell guns to criminals and gangs….
We can also ban the sale of military-style assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. One thing the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University shooters had in common was that they both used high capacity ammunition magazines that would have been prohibited under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004.
The NIU murderer, Steven Kazmierczak, legally purchased the shotgun and three handguns he used, which did not qualify as “assault weapons,” from a licensed dealer on three trips over seven months, and there does not seem to have been anything about his background that disqualified him from owning firearms. So the only possibly relevant suggestion offered by Helmke is to reimpose a 10-round federal limit on the size of magazines. But considering that Kazmierczak fired the shotgun six times and the handguns 48 times; that it takes just a few seconds to switch magazines; and that police arrived about six minutes after the attack started, by which time Kazmierczak already had killed himself, it is doubtful that the death toll was any higher than it would have been had he been carrying 10-round magazines. In fact, I cannot recall reading an account of a mass murder in the U.S. where “high capacity” magazines made a demonstrable difference.
The rest of Helmke’s “common-sense steps” could not possibly have stopped this attack. So why trot them out and pretend otherwise? Because that’s what gun controllers routinely do, as I noted in a 1994 article for reason. Their lobbying, publicity, and fundraising imperatives prevent them from admitting the truth: With something like 200 million guns in circulation and no reliable way of predicting which quiet graduate student will go on a rampage one day, this sort of thing is bound to happen occasionally. No policy short of wholesale firearm confiscation can prevent such incidents, although (as I’ve argued) allowing law-abiding people to carry concealed weapons in heretofore “gun-free zones” might help reduce the number of injuries and deaths after an attack starts.
ACT RESPONSIBLY: DON’T VOTE!!Act Responsibly: Don’t Vote! That’s not a bumper sticker you’re likely to see in coming weeks. Instead the ballot will be revered like a religious object and voting will be declared a duty. But what if the ballot is just one more government form to fill out? What if the most politically powerful act is to say “no” by tearing the form in half?
This November, most people won’t “do it” in the voting booth despite attempts to shame them. They will spend the time on activities that enrich their lives: buying groceries, playing with children, catching up on work.
If war itself can’t motivate people to put a checkmark in a box, it is time to consider non-voting from a radically different perspective. Maybe non-voters are right. After all, if most people refuse to buy a product with which they’re acquainted, do you blame them or the product? Politicians have only themselves to blame if people are not buying what they sell.
The knee-jerk response is to accuse non-buyers of apathy. In many cases, this may be true but it isn’t the non-voter’s fault if he thinks a ballot is irrelevant to his life. Gerrymandered voting districts that almost ensure results, preppy and prepped candidates, a two-party system that restricts access to alternate voices, candidates in debt to corporate sponsors and lobbyists, campaign promises that dissolve, and dubious election procedures. The notoriously corrupt New York politician Boss Tweed once said, “You may elect whatever candidates you please to office, if you will allow me to select the candidates.” In short, by the time names are on the ballot, the fix is in. And apathy becomes a reasonable response.
Non-voting is a gauge of how deeply alienated the average person is from the political establishment. Sometimes political disgust converts non-voting from an act of indifference to one of protest through which people express a word that all politicians fear: “no.” Not just “no” to them but to the entire process.
Everyone who chuckles at the old joke, “Don’t vote, it only encourages them,” connects on some level with the idea of making a statement through consciously not voting. But, for most non-voters, such protest if it exists at all is on an emotional level. That is, a sense of disgust or disillusionment with the system makes them shy away from participating in it.
Those for whom non-voting is conscious statement of protest generally argue as follows:
The check mark or the punched chad on a ballot means “yes” it is the consent you give to the electoral process by virtue of participating. No wonder all candidates agree on one point: you should vote. They are like religious leaders who urge you to worship at the church of your choice. First and foremost, politicians want you to sanction the process by which they acquire power and money because, without that sanction, they have no legitimacy.
It is commonly said, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about the outcome.” The opposite is true. By playing the game, voters agree to the rules. Only those who don’t play and withhold their consent have a right to complain about the outcome, especially since the winner will have his hand in the non-voter’s pocket.
Voting is not an act of political freedom. It is an act of political conformity. Those who refuse to vote are not expressing silence. They are screaming in the politician’s ear: “You do not represent me. This is not a process in which my voice matters. I do not believe you.”
Non-voting has a rich and long history through which the dissenting electorate has expressed everything from religious convictions to political cynicism. That history has been conspicuously ignored. If people truly believe voting is important, they should use their mouths to do more than insult non-voters and utter election slogans. They should discuss and debate the issue with those who disagree.Wendy McElroy - Tuesday 26 February 2008 - 02:09:46
On Sunday, 60 Minutes ran a segment on the federal government’s pretty outrageous and politically-motivated prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Unlike much of the U.S. Attorney imbroglio, the pursuit of Siegelman reeks of genuine scandal, and may involve actual criminal acts committed by members of the Bush administration.
I am now hearing from readers all across Northern Alabama—from Decatur to Huntsville and considerably on down—that a mysterious “service interruption” blocked the broadcast of only the Siegelman segment of 60 Minutes this evening. The broadcaster is Channel 19 WHNT, which serves Northern Alabama and Southern Tennessee. This station was noteworthy for its hostility to Siegelman and support for his Republican adversary. The station ran a trailer stating “We apologize that you missed the first segment of 60 Minutes tonight featuring ‘The Prosecution of Don Siegelman.’ It was a technical problem with CBS out of New York.” I contacted CBS News in New York and was told that “There were no transmission difficulties. The problems were peculiar to Channel 19, which had the signal and had functioning transmitters.” Channel 19 is owned by Oak Hill Capital Partners … Oak Hill Partners represents interests of the Bass family, which contribute heavily to the Republican Party.
This is pretty brazen stuff. Siegelman’s serving seven years for something that happens every day in this country, at every level of government. If this can happen to a popular former state governor, you wonder what happens to people accused of federal crimes who don’t have that kind of clout.
From a Public Policy Institute of California comes a study finding that immigrants, legal and illegal, in California are not more likely to show up in prison than native-born Americans. Some findings:
• Foreign-born men make up about 35 percent of the state’s adult male population, but they are roughly 17 percent of the state’s overall prison inmates.
• U.S.-born men are jailed in state prisons at a rate more than three times higher than foreign-born men and are 10 times more likely to land behind bars.
• Male Mexican nationals ages 18 to 40 - those more likely to have entered the country illegally - are more than eight times less likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to be imprisoned.
• Those who entered the country when they were 1 year old or younger make up about 0.8 percent of those institutionalized.
The low crime rate among foreign-born Californians can be seen in the crime tallies for cities such as Burbank, Glendale and Norwalk, which large proportions of the state’s immigrant population call home.
From 2000 to 2005, those cities experienced crime dips far greater than cities with smaller immigrant populations.
Update: I added the actual link to the SJMN story above. Some commenters below ask whether deportations deflate the number of immigrant prisoners. The study, which again I haven’t read, apparently takes something like that into consideration. See this SF Chron summary.
This is what the revolution looks like. Freedom doesn’t mean ballot boxes and it doesn’t mean barricades. Freedom is made up of direct action. We will know we have won when we can walk away whistling and just ignore the bellowing blowhard brigade.
Here’s a recent strip from the Calvin and Hobbes reruns. This one’s going up on my door.
When we have won, this is what freedom will look like. It won’t take any ballot boxes and it won’t take political parties, let alone guns and barricades. Direct action means being able to walk the other way and just ignore them.
Singapore has one of the most zealous pro-fertility agendas in the world, involving a state-run matchmaking service, cash bonuses for child production, and a PR campaign dubbed “Have Three or More, If You Can Afford It.” A few decades back, of course, overpopulation seemed rather more pressing (See: Famine, 1975!), and the city-state was running a campaign called “Stop at Two.” I’ve posted one of these over at my own blog, but here are a few more classic please-stop-breeding posters that the Singaporean government has archived online:
Mister Buckles is taking back our democracy from the party establishment!
Playing the government game and taking the government’s patronage means playing by the government’s rules. The longer you keep walloping at it, the more stuck in it you get. Primary goals — like solidarity and social justice, or intellectual discovery and creation — have already been replaced by secondary goals — like winning elections or tugging on legislative purse-strings. Soon the secondary goals are swallowed up by tertiary goals — spending four-year election cycle after four-year election cycle bashing yourself against the hardened barricades of the Party establishment, or wrangling with political factions over the best process to find and bring in a boss combining the right balance of academic chops with the political connections needed to keep the university mainlining politically appropriated funds. This is no way to make a revolution. It’s not even a way to make small change.
In anarchy, there is another way. When the things that matter most in our lives are the things that we make for ourselves, each of us singly, or with many of us choosing to work together in voluntary associations, there will be no need to waste years of our lives and millions of dollars fighting wars of attrition with back-room king-makers—because we will not need to get any of the things that they are trying to hoard. There will be no need to fight battles between academic senates and Boards of Trustees over the right balance of academic competence and political savvy in a university President —because when universities’ funding rises from the people who participate in, or care about, the academic community, rather than being handed down by the State, the university has no need for political bodies like Boards of Trustees or smooth-operator self-styled Chief Executive Officers. We will not need to get any of the favors that they might be able to grant. When we go after the State’s patronage, politics makes prisoners of us all. But freedom means that when the powers that be try to rope you along for something stupid, or try to snuff out something brilliant, we can turn around, walk away, and do things for ourselves—whether they like it or not.
This has been done, acknowledges Ben Steil of the Council on Foreign Relations (a group I’m not in the habit of quoting favorably), by compelling other governments around the world to print huge mounds of their own currencies to prop up the dollar by buying Treasury Notes.
Thus when the Fed inflates, central banks world-wide follow suit, thereby driving up consumer prices for those ruled by satraps of Washington’s global empire. Not surprisingly, at least some of those on the unfavorable end of this equation are getting restive, which is whythe Gulf Cooperation Council has been making noises about removing the “dollar peg” that holds this corrupt arrangement together.
He just can’t leave wretched enough alone, can he? The execrable Alan Greenspan at an investment conference in Saudi Arabia, urging the region’s petro-oligarchs to abandon the dollar.
Oh — and wasn’t it cute of Alan “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” Greenspan, addressing an investors’ conference in Jedda, to advise GCC governments to drop the dollar peg in order to protect them from the consequences of his own inflationary policies?
Foreign purchases of our debt bonds started to taper off three years ago. If the GCC governments act on Greenspan’s advice, it will probably provoke a world-wide flight from the dollar and, in short order, the end of our status as a First World nation. I wouldn’t blame the GCC or anybody else for bailing on the buck, of course. But it is indigestibly rich to see Greenspan wielding the pin that may be used to pop the dollar bubble he so diligently inflated during his term as Fed Commissar.
To understand the likely consequences of the course Greenspan now prescribes, a different metaphor is called for.
For decades, the fiat dollar has been the world’s reserve currency, issued by the world’s largest debtor. The results of this unprecedented combination were entirely predictable: Washington has generated a flood tide of inflation that has inundated more or less the entire world.
A tide is a reciprocating phenomenon — if it goes out, it must come back in. But how to we describe what happens when a relatively small stretch of coastline suddenly has to absorb the impact of every returning tide from all the world’s oceans all at once? “Tsunami” is an entirely inadequate term.
Well, in economic terms, we’re going to find out, and probably sooner than any of us will admit. And auguries of this potentially apocalyptic development abound.
For instance: “Euros only” signs have sprung up on the streets of Manhattan. No, this doesn’t mean proprietors of small shops would flatly reject FRNs (Federal Reserve Notes) if offered in sufficient quality. It does mean, however, that with the inversion of the exchange rate in favor of the European Union’s flavor of fiat currency, and the corresponding influx of European tourists, at least some small businessmen in New York — particularly those who have traveled to Europe recently, and learned just how little a dollar will buy on the Continent — are trying to avoid the hassle and stress of converting currencies.
“I need euros,” one street vendor from Niger explained to theWashington Post. “The dollar’s going down. I don’t want to change it before I go home.”*
We’d better get used to that kind of thing. In fact, it would be a good idea for Americans to study what’s happening to another dollar, the Zimbabwean variety. The regime led by the demented Marxist thug Robert Mugabe will admit to an official inflation rate of 100,580 percent in January, up dramatically from a more, ahem, modest rate of 66,212 percent last December. But unofficial — which is to say, more reliable — estimates put the rate at around 150,000 percent.
A millionaire street beggar in Zimbabwe displays bundles of that nation’s increasingly worthless fiat currency. He has an endearing and radiant smile now, but the history of hyperinflation suggests this young man is in for incredibly hard times. Say a prayer for him.
The typical Zimbabwean is a multi-millionaire: The country’s per capita gross domestic product is $9 dollars (U.S.), or about 70 million of that country’s dollars. But then again, a kilo of chicken goes for 15 million Zimbabwean dollars.
While Zimbabwe’s “millionaires” starve, its ruler and his posse feast. Amid chronic shortages of gasoline, food, and other essentials, the sub-cretinous hordes who compose that nation’s ruling elite recently raised 3 trillion Zim-dollars to celebrate the Dear Leader’s 84 birthday.
Of course, we’re not suffering Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation, at least not yet. But here’s the cold, unyielding reality: As measured by our current account balance (which is not the sole definitive measure of an economy, I hasten to point out), our country is poorer than Zimbabwe, at least according to the CIA’s World Factbook (a fact brought to my attention by the diligent folks who run the Freedom’s Phoenix newssite). Of the 163 nations on the CIA’s list, Zimbabwe is 95th. The United States is dead last.
Our nation is broke in a way no country has ever been broke before. And as households, Americans are about to grow much poorer.
William Lapp of Advanced Economic Solutions recently told participants a the USDA’s Outlook Forum that a wave (there’s that image again) of “real food inflation” is about to reach consumers. His assessment was seconded by Larry Pope of Smithfield Foods, the nation’s largest pork processor: “I think we need to tell the American consumer that [prices] are going up…. We’re seeing cost increases that we’ve never seen in our business.” (Emphasis added.)
Joseph Glauber, the USDA’s chief economist, took note of a fact that should be obvious to anybody who’s shopped for breakfast cereal recently: The price of wheat has surged dramatically, and stands at nearly $20 a bushel, an increase yet to be fully factored into consumer prices.
As Lapp soberly pointed out, we’re just at the beginning of this trend. And the kind folks at the United Nations, who never met a problem they couldn’t transform into a crisis, or a crisis they couldn’t nurture into a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe,is reportedly drawing up plans for food rationing in urban areasshould commodity price inflation goes hyperbolic and food riots ensue.
Of course, this kind of thing would only happen in desperately impoverished countries without the means to meet the obligations imposed on them by their governments, and whose populations can’t afford to buy food. You know, countries like Zimbabwe today … and perhaps the United States in the near future.
*I experienced a moment of mild and bitter amusement reading this observation in thePost story: “U.S. currency is the only legal tender money in the United States, but parties can agree to satisfy a debt by other means.”
Oh, really? Well, what if the parties agreed to an exchange of goods for Liberty Dollars, which are either made of, or fully redeemable in, the only constitutionally permissible money — gold and silver? The Feds regard an equitable transaction between fully informed parties that involves real money to be a species of “forgery.” What the Post meant to say, apparently, is that parties are free to conduct transactions using other fiat currencies.