Common sense does not mistake the difference between victory and defeat: the losers weep and cower, while the winners strut and rejoice. The losers have to change their ways, the winners feel more secure than ever in theirs. On September 12, retiring Texas Senator Phil Gramm encapsulated this common sense: “I don’t want to change the way I live. I want to change the way they live.” Common sense says that victory means living without worry that some foreigners might kill us on behalf of their causes, but also without having to bow to domestic bureaucrats and cops, especially useless ones. It means not changing the tradition by which the government of the United States treats citizens as its masters rather than as potential enemies. Victory requires killing our enemies, or making them live in debilitating fear. . . .
Let us first examine the attitudes and policies of the U.S. government that guarantee defeat—in fact, are defeat itself. Then we will be able to see more clearly what victory would look like, and how it could be achieved.
Read on for a useful thought experiment about what might have been.
Within living memory, Meridian Hill Park, which is a two minute walk from where I live, was safe enough that on hot days, children would sleep outside there. Admittedly, there were many bad things about Washington, DC, during the Great Depression, but despite it being a poorer era, it was undoubtedly safer. I’m not a child, but I wouldn’t think of going there after dark. Yes, this area has gentrified, but not that much yet.
The 1960s began the notion that we were jailing too many people, so we relaxed the laws, which lead to a surge in crime during the 70s and 80s. It took tough on crime politicians in the 90s to bring crime rates down. Thanks to Brown v. Plata, the state of California is being forced to release 30,000 odd criminals. The Last Psychiatrist quipped, “You can have bilateral retinal cancer and be able to point to which Justices voted for or against this.”
One of the most knowledgeable writer on crime rates and prison, Heather MacDonald, had this to say:
There is already reason to doubt that the rosy future of a lowered prison population and a lowered crime rate predicted by anti-prison activists will come to pass, since some of their premises are incorrect. First, it is not the case that we’re sending innocuous bumblers to prison. In fact, prison remains in most places a lifetime achievement award for persistence in criminal offending. The JFA Institute, an anti-incarceration advocacy group, estimated in 2007 that offenders ended up in prison in just 3 percent of violent victimizations and property crimes. In 2004, only 1.6 percent of burglars were in prison, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. It can be unsettling for a layman to hear a big-city prosecutor’s typology of crime: “non-serious crimes” consist of basically everything you can do criminally without a gun or other use of force. Steal a car and you get probation; hijack a car with a driver in it, however, and you’re going to prison. The person who just lost a car, even if fortunate enough not to have been threatened while in it, probably doesn’t regard the theft of his vehicle as “non-serious.”
Second, parole violations are not trivial. If a criminal is missing his appointments without a valid excuse—such as a job interview or medical appointment—and without notifying his parole officer, it’s likely that he is up to no good.
Most Californians are undoubtedly feeling dread today reading about the Supreme Court’s decision. My guess is that the state will find a way to avoid a mass prisoner release, whether by quickly commissioning new prisons, relocating state prisoners to already overcrowded county jails, or sending prisoners out of state. Though it is too late now to make any difference in the immediate prison budget, it remains imperative to restore sanity to the state’s public-pension system. If the state weren’t obligated to pay its corrections officers such high salaries and pensions, it could have built more prison capacity. Unfortunately, Governor Jerry Brown just struck another sweetheart deal with the corrections union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
The GAO reported in March that in FY 2008, there were 27,000 illegal aliens in the state prison system for whom California was receiving partial (very partial) reimbursement from the feds. (See here, p. 30.) That’s close to the total number our black-robed rulers have ordered released. And that’s not counting the legalimmigrants who’ve made themselves deportable by committing crimes.
Obviously, the federal government is complicit because of its longstanding refusal to get serious about enforcing immigration laws. But California’s state and local governments and the state’s delegation in Congress have contributed to this, through sanctuary-city policies, promotion of amnesty, resistance to mandatory E-Verify, in-state tuition for illegals, etc.
But in dealing with the immediate problem of complying with the Supreme Court’s latest ukase, immigration law can be useful. You certainly don’t want to let criminal aliens get off with less punishment than Americans, but in deciding whom to release, it would be better to release a criminal onto the streets of Mexico or El Salvador than the streets of California. And if they come back, they’re then guilty of the federalfelony of re-entry after deportation, which means California’s prisons don’t have to deal with him any more (assuming Eric Holder’s Justice Department will prosecute re-entry cases, which can’t be assumed).
Oddly, Conor Friedersdorf proposes a wave of ankle bracelets, which seems expensive and worthy of a police state. Further, once the ankle bracelets got started on nonviolent offenders released from prison, they would almost certainly be extended to nonviolent offenders who never actually went there in the first place, rather like the cameras in high crime places that are now ubiquitous. More likely than ankle bracelets, but equally as worthy of a totalitarian state, is that the released prisoners will be outsourced to psychiatry. The Last Psychiatrist asks:
Where do you think all of these released prisoners will go? Home? To work?
They are being offloaded to psychiatry. To rehabs, to “involuntary outpatient,” to probation and their weekly/monthly drug tests and verification of medication compliance; to SSI.
I will grant you that it is much better than prison for those individuals. But this process justifies, institutionalizes, government control of individuals while in the public realm. It becomes that much easier to justify X or Y in the service of monitoring. Psychiatry becomes a willing (happy) tool of the government, because it pays.
If we want to talk about the things that can be done about prison overcrowding, or about changing the reasons for such high incarceration rates, we can do that. But to offload the entire mess to the psychiatrists is the kind of madness that will destroy everything that America was supposed to have been standing for.
My own prediction: nothing good is coming of this. Either California gets a surge in crime, or government, in the name of preventing crime, grows and insinuates itself through surveillance, using either high technology or questionable psychotherapy.
We are normally less than fond of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but when she’s right, she’s right. Michael Walsh in The New York Post explains:
On Monday, in Kentucky v. King, the high court upheld the conviction of a man arrested after cops — who were tailing a suspected drug dealer into an apartment building — smelled marijuana smoke and banged on his door. When they heard noises coming from the apartment “consistent with the destruction of evidence,” they broke in and found drugs.
But they had the wrong guy. The drug courier was in another apartment. Hollis King may have been breaking the law, but he was minding his own business, on his own premises, and only became a suspect afterthe police had made their mistake.
But Justice Sam Alito, writing for the 8-1 majority, said, in effect, So what?
“Exigent circumstances” — in this case, the possible destruction of evidence — justified the forcible entry. He wrote: “The Kentucky Supreme Court held that the exigent circumstances rule does not apply in the case at hand because the police should have foreseen that their conduct would prompt the occupants to attempt to destroy evidence. We reject this interpretation” — since King could have simply ignored the knock at the door, or could have opened his door and declined to answer any questions.
“Occupants who choose not to stand on their constitutional rights but instead elect to attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame for the warrantless . . . search that may ensue.”
What planet is Alito living on? The whole point of the Bill of Rights is to restrict authority. The Founders, who suffered under the British system of “general warrants” and “writs of assistance” — i.e., fishing expeditions — wished to ensure that no American home could be searched without probable cause and a duly issued warrant specifying exactly what police are looking for.
The case has been remanded to Kentucky, to sort out whether the circumstances were truly “exigent.” But Alito’s interpretation is an open invitation to abuse — as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphatically warned in her dissent:
“The court today arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases. In lieu of presenting their evidence to a neutral magistrate, police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down — never mind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant. I dissent from the court’s reduction of the Fourth Amendment’s force.”
Perhaps they’ll waive the fifth and eighth amendments, too. . .
When Aaron Poisson stole a Starbucks tip jar, Roger Kreutz tried to stop him. In the scuffle, Kreutz hit his head and died. Poisson fled, was caught, and served a year in prison for involuntary manslaughter.
Poisson was a reluctant attendee at an unusual reunion at the store last year, in which two of Kreutz’s brothers and other relatives rewarded Poisson with forgiveness, saying they knew he intended no harm. They hugged and cried together and planted a memorial tree.
There’s a picture of Poisson spreading the ashes on the memorial tree by Starbucks.
The Kreutz family, we’re sure, thinks of themselves as good people. They’ll forgive someone who murdered one of them, after all.
But really, much as we’re sure the murderer wanted forgiveness, forcing him to participate in an ashes sprinkling ceremony is a bit much. There’s a touch of sadism lurking behind the Kreutz family’s ceremony.
And there’s more than a touch of sadism in the family’s lawsuit—not against Poisson, but against STARBUCKS:
The Starbucks coffee shop here should have known it was inviting trouble by placing a tip jar on an open counter, according to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the estate of a customer who died defending it.The suit, filed Monday in St. Louis County Circuit Court, seeks unspecified damages from the Starbucks Corp. on behalf of the estate of Roger Kreutz and his father, Edward Kreutz Sr.
Poisson was not named in the suit.
It alleges that Starbucks “did not employ security to prevent the perpetration of such crimes” and that it “invited the act of perpetration of said crime” by having a tip jar.
Curiouser and curiouser. One can fulminate, as the Advice Goddess did, about the frivolous law suit. But there’s something deeper and more sinister afoot here.
The Kreutz family is doing something that at first seems cognitive dissonance: they’re being kind to a murderer and vicious to not just a company but also to that company’s numerous employees who depend on those tip jars. Cleaning ladies have a name for such people, “Miss Nasty-Nice,” which means the sort of woman who very nicely does very awful things. The Nasty-Nices are almost impossible to stop, because they’re convinced that they’re both nice and doing things for everybody’s good. C.S. Lewis had this to say about the Nasty-Nices:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
My own observation is that this particular clan of Nasty-Nices has left their habitual domain of the federal government or the university faculty lounge: this story takes place in St. Louis, MO. Nasty-Nice has made it to middle America.
For certainkinds of conservatives, shouting “Radical Islam!” or “Islamofascism!” is as necessary and commonplace as breathing. Though there was much to be said for this attitude in the years immediately after 9/11, I find it’s worn kind of thin lately.
To be sure, some attack is either attempted, foiled or occasionally committed a dozen times a year. But, with tremendous consistency they prove to be unimpressive, naive, or just plain stupid. Given the ease of acquiring weapons and bomb-materials in our country, it’s pretty telling that the worst attack we’ve suffered since 2001 was committed by one handgun-wielding fanatic. Clearly we have a problem with Muslim Radicals that needs diligent attention, but — as I’ve said before — if this is terrorism, I’m not very scared.
Addendum: I couldn’t help but notice that Rep. Smith said that the “all three of the terrorist attempts in the last year” were motivated by Radical Islam. Really? The Hutaree may have been losers to the core, but at least they’re alleged to have planned an attack along the lines of what one might expect from competent terrorists (for really interesting coverage about that case, specifically, about how investigators appear to have been tipped off by other militia groups, read this with this update). And if we’re counting a depressed loser/narcissist with tangential ties to some cleric in Pakistan, is it such a stretch to count Andrew Stack, the Austin Plane Attacker? For the record, I’m by no means saying that either of these were Tea Party-inspired, or any such nonsense.
Is when thousands of college kids cheer the president’s promise that insurance companies will be forced to allow them to stay on their parents’ plans:
And since you’ve been hearing a whole bunch of nonsense, let’s just be clear on what exactly the proposal that they’re going to vote on in a couple of days will do. It’s going to — it’s going to change health care in three ways. Number one, we are going to end the worst practices of insurance companies. (Applause.) This is — this is a patient’s bill of rights on steroids. (Laughter.) Starting this year, thousands of uninsured Americans with preexisting conditions will be able to purchase health insurance, some for the very first time. (Applause.) Starting this year, insurance companies will be banned forever from denying coverage to children with preexisting conditions. (Applause.) Starting this year, insurance companies will be banned from dropping your coverage when you get sick. (Applause.) And they’ve been spending a lot of time weeding out people who are sick so they don’t have to pay benefits that people have already paid for. Those practices will end.
If this reform becomes law, all new insurance plans will be required to offer free preventive care to their customers. (Applause.) If you buy a new plan, there won’t be lifetime or restrictive annual limits on the amount of care you receive from your insurance companies. (Applause.) And by the way, to all the young people here today, starting this year if you don’t have insurance, all new plans will allow you to stay on your parents’ plan until you are 26 years old. (Applause.)
The already-enthused crowd literally started screaming on that last line; it was probably the loudest cheer Obama received in the entire speech and the kids sustained it for 25 seconds. It begins in this clip at 2:49:
There is nothing wrong with families helping their grown children, especially during tough economic times.* Indeed, that’s much of the point of family, and most people do so with the expectation that they’ll do the same for their kids some day.
But taking your parents’ charity — like living in their basement — is not something to be proud of, let alone positively excited about. I can’t imagine any conceivable circumstance where a college-aged Tom (and, believe me, that kid had a sense of entitlement that frightens me today) would applaud the opportunity to remain dependent on his parents through his 26th year, let alone cheering a government mandate that a third party be required to allow him to do so.
* Having considered it at one point myself, I’m also cognizant that many families would arrange for the kids to write their parents a check each month to be on their plan. But even so, isn’t it pathetic that even after under the greatest, bestest, awesomest health care reform package in history, this kind of ridiculousness will still be necessary?
It appears that Abdulmullatab tried to get on the plane without a passport (H/T). Unfortunately, government screw ups—which this most assuredly was—are less likely to result in sensible policy changes than in more punishments for citizens. Megan McArdle’s predictions about the future of air travel are probably too optimistic.
[Glenn] Beck is spectacularly right (translation: I agree with him) on about 95 percent of the substantive issues he talks about. He is a full-throated libertarian in a world of wishy-washy Republicans. The man is a gifted communicator. His style doesn’t happen to be one I like, but many times I’ve sat there on my sofa wishing I could make the same point as effectively. But Beck uses tactics that include tiny snippets of film as proof of a person’s worldview, guilt by association, insinuation, and occasionally outright goofs like the fake quote. To put it another way, I as a viewer have no way to judge whether Beck is right. I have to trust that the snippets are not taken out of context, that the dubious association between A and B actually has evidence to support it, and that his numbers are accurate. It is impossible to have that trust.
So here’s the unbearable paradox. Beck really has had important effects on the way the Obama administration and its legislation is perceived. It is conceivable that if healthcare goes down to a razor-thin defeat, Beck will have made the difference. If that turns out to be the case, he will have made a far greater contribution to the survival of the American project than ink-stained wretches like me can dream of having. And I want to shut him up?
I don’t really want to shut him up. I want him to change. Take those enormous talents and make all the arguments that he can legitimately make. Keep the cutesy gimmicks (I understand that we’re talking entertainment here), but have an iceberg of evidence beneath the surface. Fox is making so much money from the show that it can afford the staff to do the homework.
Popularization –the ability to take dry-but-important material and present it in a fun and informative way — is an essential sub-field of any discipline. Carl Sagan was an unexceptional technical astronomer, but Cosmos did more good for his colleagues than a dozen new research papers, and infinitely more for the general public. Much the same could be said for Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Dawkins* (Evolutionary Biology), Steven Pinker (Cognitive Science), Jacob Brownoski (History of Science), or Joseph J. Ellis and David McCollough (American History), just to name a few people whose work touches fields I’m interested in.
At its best, Talk Radio is to conservative politics what these academics are to their fields: people who are able to advocate for their causes and educate people who are intelligent, but busy. Most people aren’t going to read The Bell Curve or the Federalist Papers, but people like Beck, Limbaugh, or Mark Levin**, have the ability to communicate their essentials in to a broad audience much better than Charles Murray or James Madison.
Unfortunately, as Murray and our own Conor say, most of the current crop of Conservative popularizers*** have been using their (prodigious) talents for their own self promotion at the expense of their stated goals. When Mark Levin screams at a politely dissenting caller and sarcasticly suggests her husband commit suicide, it earns him slaps on the back from fans as much as it alienates moderates. When Rush Limbaugh hopes the president fails — not expects, as David Frum pointed out, but hopes! — he gets applause from dittoheads, but makes it hard for people in the middle to take him seriously. As for Beck, I’ve nothing to add beyond Murray’s comments.
Talk Radio is an important medium and it’s one that Conservatives should exploit to its fullest advantage. Obviously, there’s a balance to be struck: nobody wins converts with stale arguments, dull prose, and an apologetic tone, and controversy can be a tremendous asset if used properly. If conservatives have the best ideas –which we do! — we should be able to keep the troops in line while convincing swing voters that we’re right. Folks like Beck, Limbaugh, and Levin have the talent to do both, but aren’t showing much interest in the latter. That’s a shame.
* Dawkins is an interesting case, as he’s both a popularizer of Atheism and Evolutionary Biology. Until very recently, Dawkins refused to admit that these causes are — in America, at least — at odds with each other. In the past year or so, he appears to have relented, if only a little.
** You may notice the conspicuous absence of Sean Hannity from this list of the talented-but-flawed. This is intentional; Hannity has no talent.
*** There are exceptions, particularly Dennis Prager and Michael Medved, who — though imperfect — strive to be fair and honest while being entertaining and strong.
David Goldman, writing as Spengler, asks the basic questions that neither Bush nor Obama seemed to ponder:
Which countries are inherently friendly, which are inherently hostile, and which are neither friendly nor hostile, but merely self-interested?
Which countries are viable partners over a given time horizon, and which are beyond viability?
Where can we solve problems, and where must we resign ourselves to contain them at best?
Where can we make agreements in mutual self-interest, and where is it impossible to make agreements of any kind?
What issues affect American national security in so urgent a fashion that we should employ force if required?
He also provides some goals for an American agenda:
Speeding economic recovery;
Maintaining the integrity of the reserve role of the dollar;
Preventing rogue states from acquiring nuclear weapons or prospectively rogue states from using them – I refer to Pakistan;
Fostering the stability of key countries, especially China and India, and, above all,
Maintaining a technological edge of American weaponry so great as to give America strategic flexibility in all theaters.
And finally he proposes things that should NOT be on the American foreign policy agenda:
Iraqi or Afghani democracy;
North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership for Ukraine.
Quite a bit packed into one column. I disagree with his assessment about the Dalai Lama—American should stand with the oppressed against their oppressors—but it’s mostly a pragmatic view of what should be done. There doesn’t need to be democracy in Iraq or Afghanistan, just regimes that won’t actively help America’s enemies. A provocative column, well worth pondering.
In his recent visit to Buchenwald, the Nazi death camp, President Obama insisted that we must “bear witness” to the evil of the Holocaust. Such platitudes are the stuff of every president and potentate who visits such places. And that’s fine. It is, after all, what we are supposed to say. But we are also supposed to mean it. After all, it is easy to say we must bear witness to things that have already happened and to promise to “never forget” the sins of others and our own good deeds.
But what of things figuratively happening under our noses and literally transpiring a click away on our computer screens? You can see the slave camps in North Korea — not quite live via satellite, but close enough — where the machinery of suffering chugs along 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Ask yourself: What if Buchenwald were a mouse click away?
It’s a good question, but the column raises the uncomfortable question: what should we do about that psychotic state?
The most distressing aspect of the torture issue — worse, to my mind, than either the harm done to detainees or the intelligence that may have been compromised — has been our inability to debate the subject seriously and rationally. This is not a back-door way of criticizing those who disagree with me: 99% of the arguments put forward by both sides rely on the kind of circular logic that admits no honest disagreement. In short, the debated has been poisoned.
That we’ve been unable to discuss a subject this important — though for entirely different reasons, depending on whom you ask — for more than five years speaks very, very poorly for us; after 200 years of practice with republicanism, one would think our citizens could have an intelligent public debate about a controversial subject.
Jim Manzi’s post on the Corner is a genuine exception and something of an antidote: it frames the debate rationally, weighs arguments for and against, and then makes a reasoned judgment. It’s by no means a definitive statement, but it’s the kind of argument we need.
My thoughts are below the fold, but they’re less important than what Manzi wrote. Go read the whole thing.
Using my head as a prop, an old teacher gave some good advice to a young teacher. The older one said, “Be careful what you put in here [tapping my forehead] because you’ll never get it out again.” What we teach children lasts, and sometimes the little things—like a teacher using you as an example—can make an impression decades later.
What, then, are the children of Palestine learning when the youth orchestra is disbanded for playing to Shoah survivors? [Emphasis added below.]
Palestinian authorities disbanded a youth orchestra from a West Bank refugee camp after it played for a group of Holocaust survivors in Israel, a local official said on Sunday.
Adnan Hindi of the Jenin camp called the Holocaust a political issue and accused conductor Wafa Younis of unknowingly dragging the children into a political dispute.
He added that Younis has been barred from the camp and the apartment where she taught the 13-member Strings of Freedom orchestra has been boarded up.
“She exploited the children,” said Hindi, the head of the camp’s popular committee, which takes on municipal duties. “She will be forbidden from doing any activities…. We have to protect our children and our community.”
When learning history and music and paying tribute to survivors takes second place to propaganda, there’s no real hope for the future. Is there an Arabic word for doublespeak—how does preventing an orchestra from playing “protect our children”?
Nathan over at A Few Thoughts deplores the game-playing with the federal courts and explains the rules:
Identify rising legal stars in the opposite political or judicial camp.
When a president nominates these rising legal starts to “pipeline” positions that could lead to a seat on the Supreme Court, fight their nominations with every substantive complaint and procedural maneuver you can manage. (The public doesn’t pay much attention to this round of the game, so if you want to defeat nominees that would be hard to oppose in the attention-grabbing Supreme Court nomination round, this is your chance. Be sure to oppose the nominations of women and racial minorities with zeal.)
Don’t let your guard down when you defeat one nomination; you can’t let anyone through. That way, the president will be forced to nominate someone you like (or at least one you like better than the nominee you defeated).
He opposes the Republicans who oppose Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan, who was blocked from the federal bench in 1999. But now that Kagan is up for Solicitor General, she has a duty to answer questions about what she’ll argue in court. Courtesy of the WSJ’s Political Diary (sorry, no link) here’s a summary of her testimony [emphasis added]:
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote today for President Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to become the Justice Department’s new Solicitor General. The dean of Harvard Law School is expected to be confirmed, but her refusal to answer questions is setting a bad precedent.
Supreme Court nominees have in recent years declined to answer many questions on grounds that their answers could jeopardize impartiality in future cases. The exemption has not extended to executive branch nominees, however, whose policy opinions and judgments are a relevant part of their qualifications.
That could change if Ms. Kagan’s antics are allowed to stand. Seventeen times in response to Senate questions on topics including legal policy regarding gays in the military, enemy combatants and the Second Amendment, Ms. Kagan declined to give her views. Why? She claimed either she had a special duty to the Court or that she did not wish to prejudice future decisions from the Solicitor General’s office.
Well, Well. That’s a major departure from other executive branch nominees, including two Bush-era solicitors general, Ted Olson and Paul Clement, who answered questions at their hearings on controversial issues, from ROTC on campus to detainee treatment.
Ms. Kagan’s real motive for staying mute has been a subject of speculation. She may wish to avoid going on record with anything that could complicate her own potential nomination to the Supreme Court. If so, perhaps she shouldn’t have accepted Mr. Obama’s nomination to the SG’s office. The Senate confirmation process exists to provide oversight and give voters often their only chance to learn about the people who will govern in their name. The Solicitor General is not an empty vessel but the top legal advocate for the United States.
Republican Senators roll over for Democratic nominees in ways that Democratic Senators do not for Republican nominees; this is why Orrin Hatch, long time ranking Republican on the Judiciary committee, was the subject of an irritated but truthful aphorism: “Don’t count on Hatch till he’s chickened.” The problem is that if one side is throwing punches and its opponent is not, the side throwing punches has no motivation to stop. Republicans need to do unto their political enemies as their enemies do unto them.
For example, the Democrats were obsessed with using sex scandals (or the implication of them) to bring down Republicans like Bob Packwood and Clarence Thomas. It took Bill Clinton’s sexcapades to get Democrats to back off that tool. If Republicans want to end the game, they need to stop complaining about the rules and win the silly thing.