Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘Unethical Tweet Of The Month: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)'”

Humble Talent has issued an excellent and provocative post on one of the Great Ethics Controversies: what is fair, ethical and effective criminal justice punishment in a nation with the values of the United States?

I admit that this is an ethical blind spot for me, perhaps because I worked as both a defense attorney and a prosecutor. My natural inclination is toward the Baretta theme song: “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” Or, for that matter, if you can’t pay the fine. I also believe, as Humble alludes to skeptically  in his final paragraph, that the culture of the United States, emphasizing individual freedom and encouraging self-worth measured by success, does make criminal activity more common, and its history and culture also increase the frequency of  violent crimes. I don’t trust cross cultural comparisons; I think they are all misleading, and often intentionally so. The United States is unique.

Nonetheless, all of the issues brought up in the post are complex and important to examine, carefully, seriously. I have not forgotten this post, though I needed  Humble Talent’s comment to make me track it down,  and I hereby pledge to make criminal justice issues, and especially prison,  a higher priority here.

This is Humble Talent’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Comment Of The Day: ‘Unethical Tweet Of The Month: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)’”

We’ve talked about this issue before, tangentially… And it’s something of a hot topic for me. It’s something that differentiates me from the group, I think, because it’s something I think America could do better, and it seems to be something that other right-leaning commentators are somewhere between apathetic to and actually proud of.

I think, and I could be wrong, but I think that this reaction is more of a rejection of the other side than a legitimate statement of belief. Progressives seem to no longer be content with the steady beat of “normal” progress, instead seeming to be approaching everything from politics to the personal with a militant quasi-religious fervour.

And to a point, who can blame them? If I listened and believed half of what their thought-leaders are telling them, I might be right there beside them. I’m of the opinion that people on the right feel like (and I agree with them, to an extent) they are perpetually under siege; their values, their way of life, their livelihoods, their basic understanding of the rules of the game of life. They’re given no rest, having the steady grind of not only the overt political messaging, but cultural and familial shifts happening around them in real time. And that’s worn away the dermis a little, they’re on their last nerves, and not picking their battles very well, instead opting to fight everything. Because otherwise…. The wholesale rejection of criticisms of the penal system seems… kinda shitty when you think about it.

America *does* send people to jail for things that aren’t even crimes in much of the rest of the world, and even if they are, those infractions often do not carry jail time. America *does* send those people for vastly disproportionate periods of time, and America *is* one of three modern democracies with active for-profit prisons (the other two being the UK and Australia, both of which also seem to have recurring prison population problems), Canada, France, and Israel all tried the model and found it wanting.

Worse; America, and particularly the right, generally, has a really rough view on prison conditions…. We kind of hashed this out during the “kids in cages” episodes, but there is a contingent of people, and it isn’t small, that seems to think that once someone has broken the law, literally any law, they have utterly forfeited the right to any amount of comfort. That everything that happens to them past that point is their own damn fault, and there are a few who seem to revel in the particularly bad conditions in some facility, seeming to partake in a sadistic glee at the idea of housing people in 100 degree concrete boxes.

This seems particularly cruel when you consider that following up on the earlier point of “America incarcerates a lot of people” an amazing number of American prisoners are in jail for being poor. They were levied a fee or a fine, could not pay it, and are in jail for contempt. “But Jeff” My handy Watson pipes in, “Those people are actually in jail for jaywalking, or whatever they got the fine for.” No… They’re in jail for failure to pay. They would not have a fine to pay if they hadn’t run afoul of whatever piddly thing created the fine in the first place, but they’re in jail because they could not pay it.
It also seems particularly unnecessary when you consider that it isn’t effective. Despite America throwing people in jail for the smallest of infractions, given sentences that are often grossly disproportionate to the crimes committed, in conditions sometimes contravene the Geneva Conventions…. At the end of the day, crime rates are somewhere between similar and worse than the rates of comparable nations.

Unless… Perhaps you want to argue that “American Exceptionalism” in this context means that Americans are exceptionally criminal, and what I see as excesses are really the only thing keeping the vastly disproportionate criminal element at bay. In which case, carry on. I suppose.

21 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘Unethical Tweet Of The Month: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)'”

  1. I think the entire libertarian side of the “right wing” more or less agrees with this. Which is why I haven’t heard any grousing from the Right over Trump passing prison reform (which isn’t to say NO one is grousing; I just haven’t seen it.)

    I do think there’s a case to be made that the US is going to have relatively high crime rates compared to other nations, regardless of anything. America attracts people from all over the world, America allows for more personal autonomy than most countries, and America generates unparalleled wealth. Unless you take away the freedom and prosperity of the U.S., the criminal element is going to be drawn here, making it a bit unfair to compare our crime rates.

  2. The issue of incarceration is a difficult topic for many of us. If a law is broken, and a fine is the result, should nothing at all happen for failure to pay the fine? Payment plans are an option, at least in Wisconsin, so if those terms aren’t met, do we shrug and say “oh well”? No consequences doesn’t seem to be a valid option, otherwise why even bother having a law in the first place?
    If we can agree some punishment is valid, whether it’s a fine or incarceration, then it seems we must agree there would need to be consequences for failure to comply. The disagreement lies with what the consequence should be.
    I’m familiar with the prison system in Wisconsin, and would say the prisons here may be crowded, but seem to be clean, heated, and adequate in terms of basic human needs. Inmates can have radios, TVs, books, and some personal items. Behavior determines if privileges are removed, and when they’re returned. I’m of the mind that the punishment is the confinement, not that folks should be punished while confined. However, I also don’t think prison should be exactly comfortable. Prisons are stark out of necessity, industrial food preparation is generally poor, and being housed with large groups is uncomfortable by nature.
    Overall, if we view incarceration by our feelings for our fellow man, it’s always going to seem horrible. If we view it from a logical perspective, we’d have to realize in most cases it’s a necessary evil.

    • “I’m familiar with the prison system in Wisconsin, and would say the prisons here may be crowded, but seem to be clean, heated, and adequate in terms of basic human needs.”

      I can vouch for that.

      Years ago before I switched careers I worked in commercial and residential appliance repair and I was in and out of a few of Wisconsin’s prisons doing warranty work for major commercial appliance manufacturers. I can say that the prisons were in fact very clean, ell kept up, and there seemed to be plenty of things for the inmates to do and they were heated reasonably comfortably in the winter months and not roasting hot in the summer months.

    • “otherwise why even bother having a law in the first place?”

      This! A million times this! Far, *FAR*, too often, in my opinion, the answer, particularly in America, to seemingly the smallest problem is to legislate against it. I’ve used the jaywalking example throughout, but there are so many more I could have picked from. If the logical, natural conclusion of someone receiving a fine for jaywalking is that they may end up incarcerated for not paying that fine, then that has to be part of the calculus, and in that light, is fining people for jaywalking in the public best interest?

      What are the alternatives? Perhaps as opposed to incarceration, you assign community service. In the context of this conversation, the idea of the two tiered justice system, derives from one class having the means to afford to break the law with impunity, and another that will face incarceration because they *cannot* pay their fines. Having something that they *could* do to avoid prison while providing some amount of utility to society makes sense.

      More, *Should* this even be a law? Jaywalking is obviously unsafe, but if America values personal autonomy so much, perhaps someone ought to be allowed to behave dangerously, and then be saddled with the responsibility that comes in the event of a collision.

      “I’m of the mind that the punishment is the confinement, not that folks should be punished while confined. However, I also don’t think prison should be exactly comfortable. ”

      We are in violent agreement, and most prisons are probably appropriate, but when there are the horror stories, again, mostly out of privately owned prisons, like people being punished by being forced to take scalding hot showers (recall the story from last year of the man who was boiled alive), or the gulags run by Arpaio and I feel like there’s a duty to signal displeasure. That shit isn’t acceptable. We need to demand better.

      • The jaywalking stuff is amazing to me. I’m from Greater Boston; I went to school in Harvard Square, the jaywalking capital of the world. The idea of being arrested for jaywalking in completely alien to me. I think in Mass, there’s a merit badge for it.

        • Having lived in Boston for many years, when I moved to Wisconsin I literally slammed into the back of another pedestrian at a cross-walk because I just assumed they would keep going. Nope. The “no walk” sign was lit. They just stood there, not a car in sight. * sigh *

          “More, *Should* this even be a law? Jaywalking is obviously unsafe, but if America values personal autonomy so much, perhaps someone ought to be allowed to behave dangerously, and then be saddled with the responsibility that comes in the event of a collision.”

          This ^^^^^.

      • Using the jaywalking example, perhaps it shouldn’t be an offense at all. But in some areas, it is. And because it is, there must be a consequence. This goes back to the post from the other day, basically if the law exists, there is a duty to conform. Just because we don’t like a law isn’t license to break it.
        I support the idea of community service whole-heartedly. It was also a very popular sentencing option here in Wisconsin. People often didn’t show up to perform their hours. I know personally of one case where a group of girls stole a car and headed for Cali. They ranged in age from 15 – 17. All received fines and community service. The 17 year old was 18 at sentencing, and was given the option to expunge her record after completing her community service. No felony on her record at all. She failed to appear, despite repeated attempts to get her to take things seriously. She served 3 years in Tachita Correctional Institution as a result of not feeling like doing the hours of community service. Ultimately, only 1 of the other 3 girls actually completed all of the required community service.
        Prison reform, to me, smacks of the “do something” cry attached to gun reform. Perhaps the answer is to commit less crime. Poor or rich, getting caught has consequences, and saying it’s not fair to poor people because they can’t afford to pay for their crimes is an argument with no end. Poor people can follow the law, and thus avoid fines they cannot pay.

        • In particular, I think jaywalking is rooted from the insurance companies advocating for it. It doesn’t matter much if a person jumps between parked cars on the side of the road directly into the path of oncoming traffic the driver of the vehicle that hit the dumbass gets sued and the insurance companies have to pay.

          Maybe if the courts weren’t so damned happy to judge these drivers as being culpable in the injuries or death just because they were the vehicle that the fool jumped in front of we wouldn’t have stupid as shit laws like this in the first place. I was the passenger in a car driven by a friend when this exact thing happened. The teenager (fellow high school classmate) was playing a prank on my friend and jumped out from between parked cars too late and it went terribly wrong because he was a true dumbass. There was absolutely no way to avoid the dumbass, and my friend was sued and the insurance company ended up settling our of court for nearly a million dollars. My friend’s insurance went straight through the roof even though my friend was the victim of a stupid persons prank gone wrong and he was innocent of any wrong doing, no ticket, nothing.

          The moral of the story is a dumbass that should have gotten a smearing in the public square and a Darwin award trophy got nearly a million dollars for being a dumbass; it pays to be a dumbass.

          This is one reason we have some really stupid laws, it usually to protect innocent people from dumbasses.

          • I wish the laws protected the driver and even their insurance from the dumbasses. Just because insurance exists should not give dumbasses from immunity from their stupidity. I believe jaywalking law was a way to try to warn people, but morphed into an abusive enforcement in its own right. I think it should more like seatbelt, that its an addon to another charge.

        • …Poor or rich, getting caught has consequences, and saying it’s not fair to poor people because they can’t afford to pay for their crimes is an argument with no end.

          We are seeing the rich/famous get away with breaking the laws with impunity. Look at the actress (Lori Loughlin) who thought she was too famous to go to jail… and found out she was not really in the ‘club.’

          Why would she assume she could defy authorities as she did, unless her social class generally is immune from ‘petty’ prosecution?

          Hillary broke laws that still apply to me today (security clearances carry lifetime penalties, even if the information has long been in the public domain. I read my contract before I signed, and read the stipulations when I left the Army). If I published (or simply mentioned certain things on Youtube) I would go to prison for a very long time, should the wrong people notice.

          Two tiers of law are in action today. Another reason to drain the Swamp.

  3. “It’s something that differentiates me from the group, I think, because it’s something I think America could do better”

    I agree, we can certainly do better with everything related to why people are placed behind bars.

    “I think, and I could be wrong, but I think that this reaction is more of a rejection of the other side than a legitimate statement of belief. Progressives seem to no longer be content with the steady beat of “normal” progress, instead seeming to be approaching everything from politics to the personal with a militant quasi-religious fervour.”

    I don;t think you’re wrong, I think you’re spot on. The progressives and gone full anti for everything and most of them can’t even identify what they are actually for.

    “I’m of the opinion that people on the right feel like (and I agree with them, to an extent) they are perpetually under siege; their values, their way of life, their livelihoods, their basic understanding of the rules of the game of life. They’re given no rest, having the steady grind of not only the overt political messaging, but cultural and familial shifts happening around them in real time. And that’s worn away the dermis a little, they’re on their last nerves, and not picking their battles very well, instead opting to fight everything.”

    I agree but when you are attacked from every direction you have to hunker down and repel in all directions. This is exactly what progressives want, they want Conservatives on the defensive all the time so Conservatives have limited time to get their message out because they have to fight off the hordes of leftist lunacy. If the conservatives fight progressives they win, if the Conservatives pick and choose heir battles then the progressives win on the things that are not fought, it’s a strategy.

    “America *does* send people to jail for things that aren’t even crimes in much of the rest of the world, and even if they are, those infractions often do not carry jail time. America *does* send those people for vastly disproportionate periods of time, and America *is* one of three modern democracies with active for-profit prisons (the other two being the UK and Australia, both of which also seem to have recurring prison population problems), Canada, France, and Israel all tried the model and found it wanting.”

    I’m not playing the comparison game, it’s not apples to apples.

    ” there is a contingent of people, and it isn’t small, that seems to think that once someone has broken the law, literally any law, they have utterly forfeited the right to any amount of comfort.”

    Those people are wrong. We are all human beings and as human being we have certain inalienable rights. Comfort is not an inalienable right, having more freedom to watch Cable TV than poor people that can’t afford cable TV is not an inalienable right, air conditioning is not an inalienable right; however, maintaining reasonably safe temperatures in confined spaces is humane, etc. We don’t have to make prison/jail hell for those that are confined but it also shouldn’t be a place they want to go. There is a reasonable balance that needs to be achieved.

    “This seems particularly cruel when you consider that following up on the earlier point of “America incarcerates a lot of people” an amazing number of American prisoners are in jail for being poor. They were levied a fee or a fine, could not pay it, and are in jail for contempt. “But Jeff” My handy Watson pipes in, “Those people are actually in jail for jaywalking, or whatever they got the fine for.” No… They’re in jail for failure to pay. They would not have a fine to pay if they hadn’t run afoul of whatever piddly thing created the fine in the first place, but they’re in jail because they could not pay it.”

    We’ve already discussed this so I’ll just provide a link if others care to read the conversation.

    “It also seems particularly unnecessary when you consider that it isn’t effective”

    Beyond the piddly things you’ve mentioned do you think that incarceration isn’t effective of ineffective?

    “Despite America throwing people in jail for the smallest of infractions, given sentences that are often grossly disproportionate to the crimes committed”

    This is something the USA can do better with.

    “in conditions sometimes contravene the Geneva Conventions…”

    Can you elaborate on that more so I know what you’re actually talking about?

    “At the end of the day, crime rates are somewhere between similar and worse than the rates of comparable nations.”

    Again, I’m not going to compare what’s not apples to apples. As Jack wrote above we are unique.

    “Unless… Perhaps you want to argue that “American Exceptionalism” in this context means that Americans are exceptionally criminal, and what I see as excesses are really the only thing keeping the vastly disproportionate criminal element at bay. In which case, carry on. I suppose.”

    A civil society must have laws, must enforce those laws, and those that do not comply with the laws will suffer the consequences.

  4. Between 1989 and 1995 I served as the liaison between Hagerstown Community College and the MD Department of Corrections. In that role I operated the correctional college program in a medium security prison. I never saw anyone that was incarcerated for failure to pay a fine for a misdemeanor. Our program accepted only those within 2 years of release and no one absolutely no one was ever reviewed that had committed a minor crime and the first offender was a rarity. Given that we only accepted those with the greatest potential for success where were all those that were incarcerated for simply being poor?

    I cannot speak for other states but these minor lawbreakers are given wide latitude in avoiding jail through a variety of non-financial method. Furthermore it is unlikely that anyone convicted of a misdemeanor will go to to jail let alone prison.

    Working in that environment was probably the most rewarding because when you witness men who entered your program with the belief you represented white oppression and all things wrong with their lives or others with attitudes that showed they had little regard for others begin to view the world differently.

    The key to our success – longitudinal study over 5 years showed only a 20% recidivism rate – was that we took time to debate their viewpoints with each of them individually or in small groups..

    Damn shame Joe Biden was leading the charge to kill the program.

    • I left out the main point.

      The US has a huge incarceration problem because we have a huge population of people being told that they are not to blame for the bad they do because some other group or issue created the conditions for their failures.

      Having them face the reality that their excuses were cop outs and that they actually had the power to change their lot in life and giving them opportunities to prove to theselves they could succeed makes a world of difference in all men’s lives.

        • At the time the Clinton admin was looking everywhere to balance the federal budget. The House, led by Gingrich was little help either. In this case they made state inmates ineligible for Pell grants. That ended the program.

          The mission of every government program should be to work themselves out of jobs. It may never occur but every government worker should think that way.

      • “The US has a huge incarceration problem because we have a huge population of people being told that they are not to blame for the bad they do because some other group or issue created the conditions for their failures.”

        THIS!!!

        • [Myself, I blame the appliance installers. It is not advertised much nor known what an insidious influence they have. But just think of it: creeping around in the crawl spaces with special tools and such. Very clandestine. Subversive! More on this later . . . 🙂 ]

    • That’s the kind of program I’d like to get behind. Everyone does the stupid at least once in their lives, but owning up to it earnestly and choosing to really change is the most important choice. (and those challenges at every point is good drama as a writer, too) If you cannot admit your part of the problem. you cannot make sure it is changed/prevented. Victimology cannot make change.

  5. Progressives seem to no longer be content with the steady beat of “normal” progress, instead seeming to be approaching everything from politics to the personal with a militant quasi-religious fervour.

    And to a point, who can blame them? If I listened and believed half of what their thought-leaders are telling them, I might be right there beside them. I’m of the opinion that people on the right feel like (and I agree with them, to an extent) they are perpetually under siege; their values, their way of life, their livelihoods, their basic understanding of the rules of the game of life. They’re given no rest, having the steady grind of not only the overt political messaging, but cultural and familial shifts happening around them in real time. And that’s worn away the dermis a little, they’re on their last nerves, and not picking their battles very well, instead opting to fight everything. Because otherwise…. The wholesale rejection of criticisms of the penal system seems… kinda shitty when you think about it.

    It is interesting to notice that somewhat recently — this is my impression but I have also read people with much longer experience who say so — some of the classical narratives of the Left and the Right have flipped. For one example: Tucker Carlson brings out critiques of aspects of the oppressiveness (he does not use that word of course) of the corporate system. He also takes up a position that is anti-war, or anti-endless war. And just last evening he was critiquing, with his snide and sarcastic chuckling, the corporations (private interests) like Raytheon (et cetera) who advocate for war, and profit from it, while other people pay the price. So, he delves into a critical stance and attitude in terms that are not seemingly of the classic American Right.

    There is a whole series that was put out by Frontline called Zero Tolerance (from which the Steve Bannon interview I posted recently was taken) and I have been fascinated watching it. There is the main documentary, which is worth watching, and then there are many interviews with key figures in this strange Trump Movement (which surely must be one of the oddest events in American history and one that you look at and go “Huh?!?” (There could be many long essays just talking about the intersection of reality and hyper-reality in this nearly-unreal and ever-unfolding drama).

    There is one that interested my especially: that of Ann Coulter. I admit to liking her quite a bit, though she is also a little (rather endearingly) weird and quirky. It is worth watching her interview because you can see so many things in her body language that communicate a great deal about what I can only describe as a kind of ‘agony’ in having to watch a farce unfold. The contrast between what Mr Trump said he would do, and what he promised to do, and what little he is doing: but that he has brought in many of the ‘swampish’ actors.

    It is very difficult for me to understand the inner dimensions of the power-struggle going on within ‘deep government’, but what I wanted to say is that the so-called ‘populist’ position — Carlson and Coulter and Bannon are preaching a populist sermon — really does seem like a departing position within American politics. And because it is ‘popular’ what they are complaining about, and what they are advocating for, cannot be said to be neither of the classic Left nor of the classic Right. And this is true — it is definitely true — of the European Dissident Right.

    Coulter said something interesting in that interview. That the media as they are constituted and as they act now, today, should be ‘destroyed’ so that (her body language indicated a sort of hopeless longing) something new could take shape. But sn’t this an essence that can be explored? That within Dissident positions (I posted a video in another place here of a Spanish anti-Progressive rally as a sort of counter-point) there is both a rejection of Progressive control and coercion, while at the same time a defense of ‘common people’, their outlooks, desires and hopes, which are distinct from and often counter to what is purveyed through the Media Systems (I know no better term to refer to what are, overtly, propaganda and mind-control corporations. If you have a better definition please tell me).

    So, when the Humble Talon says “And at a point, who can blame them?” I feel I might — to a wee degree — understand him. Not because of the social hysteria and the fury of ever-increasing roilment of the Progressive Radical Psyche, which needs to be beaten back though it is very hard to imagine how this might be done, but because there are genuine reasons why many different aspects of this American Present can, should and must be critiqued.

    So, my view is that it is wise to sort of go back in time, into American history, and examine the American popular movements. What they clamor for, and what their interests are, are different and distinct from the capital-class and the corporate-class. And there will also be — for want of a better term — a social-oriented if not a socialistic trend.

    But what I do not understand well enough is the ‘Deep State’ conflict that is going on seemingly behind the scenes. If anyone can expound on this it would be helpful. I can see the surface with all its contemptuous conflicts, and I can see various factions taking up a position within their specific interest-camp (what comes to mind is Kiberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal who seems to REJOICE that Trump’s operative lieutenants are ‘dismantling’ the obstacles set in the way of Big Business, but then what ‘class’ of interests does the WSJ defend? That should be obvious, should it not? It cannot be the popular class, can it?)

    …perpetually under siege; their values, their way of life, their livelihoods, their basic understanding of the rules of the game of life. They’re given no rest, having the steady grind of not only the overt political messaging, but cultural and familial shifts happening around them in real time.

    But wait, hold on. There is a very real different between the progressive’s seeming attack on ‘corporate America’ and ‘the billionaires’ . . . and the terrifying ground that has been lost as the Progressive Cultural Armies march forward, ripping down America’s symbols, advocating for perverse agents to appear to pre-schoolers in drag-costume, the overt and rampant presentation of perverse imagery, and a general attack on what many — I am definitely in that camp — regard as ‘normality’. I would not even at this point know how to classify the ‘larger program’ that these Progressives seem to desire to implement: It’s that weird.

    Is there a ‘genuine’ popular movement, an organic and ‘natural’ movement within the popular culture that is advocating for these unreal levels of perversion? Really? If such a popular movement exists, where exactly does it have its cultural center? Here is another question: To what degree are these radically perverse elements organic and popular, and to what degree are they ‘purveyed’ by the General Cultural System and its media (ie systemic) agents?

    It seems quite difficult to sort through all that is rising to the surface. Who can separate out the genuine concerns from the concerns and interest of vast systemic interests? Is it worthwhile even to couch the issue in those terms.

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