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. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day, From The Epic Commenter Donnybrook In This Week’s Open Forum

battle-marvel

I was reading with interest, amusement and edification the comment thread in the recent open forum in which two, then four, then even more veteran Ethics Alarms participants got into a heated—but admirably rational and fairly fought—debate over  Steve Witherspoon‘s social media battles with a near-parody of a progressive member of the Madison Metropolitan School Board.  The donnybrook eventually extended to the ethics of public figures blocking critics on social media, apology ethics, race-based school policies, mass-incarceration, and more.

In addition to Steve weighing in were Michael R,  Jutgory, Humble Talent, Paul W. Schlecht, and late entrants slickwilly, Here’s Johnny, and Chris Marschner.

It was kind of like an “Avengers” movie, but more intelligent.

In making the choice I have for this Comment of the Day, I am not declaring any winner. Indeed, there are conclusions in the post to follow that I disagree with, and I’ll be back at the end with some of my own comments.

Here is Humble Talent’s Comment of the Day on the Ali Muldrow thread in the recent open forum:

“What I’m hoping for is less crime committed at school thus requiring fewer arrests and that is what you should be hoping for too.”

I think this is a useless truism. In a conversation about whether certain group are being treated differently than others or whether we ought to arrest children for being disorderly at school, saying “I wish people committed fewer offenses.” is a non sequitur.

As an aside: And this is a question Ali didn’t ask properly: Do you think that children should be arrested for being disorderly? And what do you think “disorderly” in that context entails?

Ali Wrote: “Explain to me how arresting people makes the world a better place, how prisons and detention centers are keeping Americans safe?”

To which you commented: “In all seriousness; anyone that writes that kind of question is completely blinded by their own bias, or they’re a blithering idiot, or they’re trying to justify the elimination of police, prisons and detention centers.”

I think this is an Americanism. Ali said that America was one of the most deadly nations on Earth. That’s not true, she should visit the Congo. But it is somewhat ironic that “The Land of The Free” has three times as many incarcerated people per capita that any other nation on Earth. Does American exceptionalism mean that Americans are also exceptionally criminal, or are you maybe doing something wrong? My take is that America locks people up for a ridiculous number of non-violent crimes, but your mileage may vary. And I don’t think “Well did he break the law or not?” is a good response to “Should this crime carry jail time?” or even better, “Should this be a crime?”. People learn how to be better criminals in jail, it stunts their lives both financially and socially, it’s permanently scarring, and sometimes fatal. While it is necessary to remove people from society or otherwise punish them for some things, sending people to criminal boot camp for jaywalking *is* counterproductive, it *does* make the world a worse place. (and I realize jaywalking is not that kind of crime, that’s hyperbole.) Continue reading

Why Did A Judge Let A Man Who Was Trying To Kill His Wife Get Off With A Tough, “Now, Now, Don’t Try To Poison Your Wife Again!” [Updated]

[Notice of corrections: This post had way too many typos, and I apologize profusely. Thanks to Crella for alerting me. I think I got all of them.]

I have a theory.

I wish I didn’t.

Therese Kozlowski got a videotape of her husband Brian poisoning her coffee with sleeping pills. Even with this evidence, the poisoner received a sentence of just 60 days in jail, which he will be allowed to serve on the weekends. The prosecutor called the sentence “a slap in the face” of the victim. Oh, it’s much worse than that.

It all started after Therese said she wanted a divorce. Then she noticed that she was feeling drowsy and tired on mornings when Brian made the coffee. She narrowly avoided an accident when she fell asleep while driving to work. So she secretly installed a small video camera by the coffee machine, and sure enough, Brian was putting the equivalent of eight sleeping pills in the morning java.

“Brian’s continuous, methodical, and calculated plot to poison me included a complete disregard for human life, including his own daughter [she also drank some of the spiked coffee], along with hundreds of other drivers who he put at risk every day for weeks,” Therese Kozlowski said in court. “I believe this was attempted murder. Once Brian realized he lost me and there was no getting me to stay in this unhealthy marriage, his goal was to eliminate me.”

This convinced Macomb County (Michigan) Circuit Court Judge Antonio Viviano , he said, to give Brian jail time instead of merely probation, which was his initial instinct. Continue reading

KABOOM! A New York Times Front Page Story Suggests Ethics Is Dead, Logic Is Dead, And That I’m Wasting My Life…

July 7th’s front page story in the New York Times not only made my head explode, it has me considering whether to chuck it all and become a bottle cap collector or something else more useful than trying to promote ethics awareness in a society where its most respected newspaper publishes something like this. Or maybe I should just give up entirely and flush myself down the commode.

The headline online is  “When ‘Black Lives Matter’ Is Invoked in the Abortion Debate.”  It just as well might have been: “TWSXQ@$#7mm.”

I’ll just post and comment on some of the gems in the piece, then you read the whole  thing and meet me at the top of the ROLAIDS tower in Baltimore and we’ll jump together, holding hands and singing the Pina Colada Song.

  • “As a pastor, Clinton Stancil counsels his black congregants that abortion is akin to the taking of innocent life. But as a civil rights activist, Mr. Stancil urges them to understand the social forces that prompt black women to have abortions at disproportionately high rates.”

If the good pastor believes that abortion is the taking of innocent life, the “social forces” don’t excuse the act at all. This is like saying that we should “understand” what makes serial killers kill. Murder—taking of innocent life–is an absolute wrong; nothing can excuse it. This is equivocation.

  • “But to many African-Americans like Mr. Stancil, who is the pastor of Wayman A.M.E. Church in St. Louis, abortion cannot be debated without considering the quality of urban schools. Or the disproportionately high unemployment rate in black communities. Or the significant racial disparities in health care.”

Then many urban schools are graduating African-Americans like Pastor Stancil who have the reasoning ability of household appliances and believe that taking innocent lives can be justified or rationalized by irrelevant matters. Continue reading

Messy Case, Messy Issues, Messy Commentary: The Trials of Curtis Flowers

The basic facts of the Curtis Flowers murder case are these: On the morning of July 16, 1996, someone walked into a furniture store in downtown Winona, Mississippi, and shot four employees in the head. Police charged  Curtis Flowers with all four murders. After 22 years of trials, mistrials and reversals, Flowers has faced juries six times for the same crime. He has been on death row since the first conviction, and the most recent one is being appealed. Many believe he is innocent.

I think it can be stipulated that this has been a badly botched prosecution, whether Flowers is innocent or not. There is no limit on how many times someone can be tried for the same crime, as long as the trials end in mistrials or convictions. The Flowers case suggests that we need a limit. If the system can’t get a conviction properly after a reasonable number of attempts—I don’t know what a reasonable number is, but I am confident that it is less than six—then the accused should go free. So far, Flowers has been in prison for over two decades without being convicted. That’s wrong.

It would be nice and reassuring if a knee-jerk liberal columnist like the New York Times’ David Leonhardt, whose background is in journalism and mathematics, not law, could inform the public about an outrageous case like this without mucking it up with ideological leaps of logic, unwarranted conclusions and progressive talking points. He can’t help himself, though.

Pity.

For his entire op-ed, he relies on this podcast about the case. A podcast about a legal case is like a documentary: it has a point of view baked into it. I admire the podcast, but it isn’t evidence. It isn’t the trial transcripts, or the decisions overturning the three convictions that were found to be flawed. Never mind: the Times writer sees “no good reason to believe that Curtis Flowers is guilty.” Continue reading

Google And The Bail Bonds: When Virtue-Signaling Goes Horribly Wrong

..or, in the alternative, go ahead and BE evil, but make sure you’re pretending to be progressive while you’re doing it.

“With great power comes great responsibility not to be reckless and stupid.”

Google recently announced this policy change. See if you can spot what is wrong with it: I shouted, “What???” pretty much through the second paragraph.

At Google, we take seriously our responsibility to help create and sustain an advertising ecosystem that works for everyone. Our ads are meant to connect users with relevant businesses, products and services, and we have strict policies to keep misleading or harmful ads off of our platforms—in fact, we removed 3.2 billion bad ads last year alone. Today, we’re announcing a new policy to prohibit ads that promote bail bond services from our platforms. Studies show that for-profit bail bond providers make most of their revenue from communities of color and low income neighborhoods when they are at their most vulnerable, including through opaque financing offers that can keep people in debt for months or years. We made this decision based on our commitment to protect our users from deceptive or harmful products, but the issue of bail bond reform has drawn support from a wide range of groups and organizations who have shared their work and perspectives with us, including the Essie Justice Group, Koch Industries, Color of Change and many civil and human rights organizations who have worked on the reform of our criminal justice system for many years. According to Gina Clayton, executive director of the Essie Justice Group, “This is the largest step any corporation has taken on behalf of the millions of women who have loved ones in jails across this country. Google’s new policy is a call to action for all those in the private sector who profit off of mass incarceration. It is time to say ‘no more.’” Enforcement of this policy will begin in July 2018. This policy change is part of our ongoing efforts to protect users on our platforms.

Maybe this isn’t as stupid as it appears. Maybe Google is trying to protect its users by ensuring that potential predators accused of crime rot in jail while they are awaiting for trial because they don’t have access to bail.  Now that would be sinister and cruel, but not idiotic. Maybe? Perhaps?

No, this is just idiotic.

Prof. Alex Tabarrok, the Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics at the Mercatus Center and a professor of economics at George Mason University, explains:

Bail bonds are a legal service. Indeed, they are a necessary service for the legal system to function. It’s not surprising that bail bonds are used in communities of color and low income neighborhoods because it is in those neighborhoods that people most need to raise bail. We need not debate whether that is due to greater rates of crime or greater discrimination or both. Whatever the cause, preventing advertising doesn’t reduce the need to pay bail it simply makes it harder to find a lender. Restrictions on advertising in the bail industry, as elsewhere, are also likely to reduce competition and raise prices. Both of these effects mean that more people will find themselves in jail for longer.

And may I add, with respect, “Duh.” You don’t begin reforming the bail system by making it harder for people who need bail to get it….that is, you don’t do that unless you have a cranial vacuum.  Moreover, Prof. Tabbarrak has the same message based on his experience with bail bond companies as I did when I had criminal defendants as clients—and when I have had to help family members and friend deal with the bail system: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/27/17

GOOOD MORNING!

(he said through gritted teeth..)

1. I received a nice, polite e-mail from a new reader here who accused me of engaging exclusively in “partisan/political rants.” “Further,” he wrote,  “everything you say appears to be entirely one-sided (right/conservative/republican is good, left/liberal/democrat is bad).”

The man is an academic, so one might expect a little fairness and circumspection, but then, the man is an academic. His description is in factual opposition to the contents of the blog (I’m trying to think of the last Republican leader, conservative or otherwise, I designated as “good”), but I know from whence the impression arises: the fact that the entire American Left, along with its sycophants and familiars, the universities, show business and the news media, have gone completely off the ethics rails since November 8, 2016. I don’t know how else I am supposed to address that. It would have been nice, for balance’s sake, if a conservative cast of white actors in, say, a hit musical called “The Ray Coniff Story” had stepped out of character and harassed, say, Chuck Shumer, but this didn’t happen. If it had, I would have treated that breach of theater ethics exactly as I did the cast of Hamilton’s harassment of Mike Pence. (I would not, however, have been attacked for doing so by my theater colleagues, and no, I haven’t forgotten, and I’m not forgiving.)

If a GOP figure working for CNN as an analyst, say, Jeffrey Lord, had used his connections at the network to forward debate questions to Donald Trump and then lied about it when he was caught red-handed, I would have eagerly written about it in highly critical terms—but the Republicans didn’t cheat. Donna Brazile and the Democrats did. 

If Hillary Clinton had been elected President and Donald Trump and the Republicans formed an anti-democractic movement called “the resistance,” tried to use a single Federalist paper as a rationalization to change the rules of the election and then pressured performers not to allow the new President the privilege of a star-studded, up-beat inauguration to unify the nation, and if a large contingent of Republican Congressmen had boycotted the ceremony, saying that they did not consider Hillary as “legitimate President,” Ethics Alarms would have been unmatched in expressing its contempt and condemnation. If conservatives were trying to limit free speech according to what they considered “hateful,” a step toward dictatorship if there ever was one, I would be among the first to declare them a menace to society. They haven’t advocated such restrictions, however. Progressives have. The Mayor of Portland has called for a “hate speech’ ban. What party is he from? Howard Dean said that “hate speech” wasn’t protected. What party was he the Chair of? I forget. What was the party–there was just one— of the mayors who announced that citizens holding certain views should get out of town?

“Need I go on? I could, because the uniquely un-American, unfair and destructive conduct from Democrats, progressives and the anti-Trump deranged has continued unabated and without shame for 10 months now.  That’s not my fault, and I don’t take kindly to being criticized for doing my job in response to it. I have chronicled this as unethical, because it is spectacularly unethical, and remains the most significant ethics story of the past ten years, if not the 21st Century to date.

And the reluctance and refusal of educated and usually responsible liberals and Democrats to exhibit some courage and integrity and vigorously oppose this conduct as they should and have a duty as Americans to do—no, I am not impressed with the commenters here who protest, “Hey, I don’t approve of all of this! Don’t blame me!” as if they bear no responsibility—is the reason this execrable conduct continues. It is also why I have to keep writing about it.

2. I’m still awaiting the apologies and acknowledgement of my predictive abilities from all of my friends who chided me for suggesting that the Confederate flag and statuary-focused historical airbrushing mania would shoot down the slippery slope to threaten the Founders and more.  Continue reading