Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Outrage-Industrial Complex

That horrid intersection of partisan liberal agendas, partisan conservative agendas, and the bullhorn of social media.

Chris Rock, of all people, who has been making more sense on politics and the state of the society these days than any talking head or "expert" on television, nails it in a recent interview with Frank Rich.

What do you make of the attempt to bar Bill Maher from speaking at Berkeley for his riff on Muslims?

Well, I love Bill, but I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative.

In their political views?

Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say “the black kid over there.” No, it’s “the guy with the red shoes.” You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.

When did you start to notice this?

About eight years ago. Probably a couple of tours ago. It was just like, This is not as much fun as it used to be. I remember talking to George Carlin before he died and him saying the exact same thing.

A few days ago I was talking with Patton Oswalt, and he was exercised about the new reality that any comedian who is trying out material that’s a little out there can be fucked by someone who blasts it on Twitter or a social network.

I know Dave Chappelle bans everybody’s phone when he plays a club. I haven’t gone that far, but I may have to, to get an act together for a tour.

Does it force you into some sort of self-censorship?

It does. I swear I just had a conversation with the people at the Comedy Cellar about how we can make cell phones into cigarettes. If you would have told me years ago that they were going to get rid of smoking in comedy clubs, I would have thought you were crazy.

It is scary, because the thing about comedians is that you’re the only ones who practice in front of a crowd. Prince doesn’t run a demo on the radio. But in stand-up, the demo gets out. There are a few guys good enough to write a perfect act and get onstage, but everybody else workshops it and workshops it, and it can get real messy. It can get downright offensive. Before everyone had a recording device and was wired like fucking Sammy the Bull,4 you’d say something that went too far, and you’d go, “Oh, I went too far,” and you would just brush it off. But if you think you don’t have room to make mistakes, it’s going to lead to safer, gooier stand-up. You can’t think the thoughts you want to think if you think you’re being watched.
Alexandra Petri picks up on it in this column:
2014, as Slate points out, was the year of outrage. We bounced from ire about Lena Dunham to ire about Uber to ire about nude photos and back again. Internet existence is powered by outrage. Indignation is a powerful force, as renewable as wind, and equally capable of leveling whatever is in its path. Hot air is never in limited supply.
You should read the Slate piece. It presents a day by day, nearly 365 so far, of "outrages" in 2014 that had people bloviating on twitter, facebook, instagram or wherever. We are so quick to judge, so quick to pass those judgments, and virtually impotent to withdraw a stupid opinion when confronted with reality that speaks to your wrongness.

As Slate notes, there's a cycle to it: "anger, sarcasm, recrimination, piling on; defenses and counterattacks; faux apologies; anger at the anger, disdain for the outraged, outrage that the apology wasn't sincere enough."

Lather, rinse, repeat; day after day, week after week, until your aneurysm subsides and you feel better about yourself. And worse, "the same cycle occurs regardless of the gravity of the offense, which can make each outrage feel forgettable, replaceable. The bottomlessness of our rage has a numbing effect."

It's a desensitization that eventually leaves us outraged at everything and yet nothing at the same time.

It is one thing to conduct yourself in a way that strives not to give offense. That’s polite. It is another thing to expect never to be offended. That’s impossible.

Now we’re at the point where, as Rock says, you can’t even be offensive on the way to being inoffensive. We’re governed by the thinnest skins.

Look at what FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff calls “disinvitation season” on college campuses, the very phenomenon Rock referenced. It’s not just No to Ann Coulter. It’s No to Bill Maher. No to newsmakers like Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, Robert Birgeneau. Soon, Lukianoff predicts, “the only people they can safely invite to speak will be those who have nothing to say.”

“People all over the globe are coming to expect emotional and intellectual comfort as though it were a right,” Lukianoff writes. “This is precisely what you would expect when you train a generation to believe that they have a right not to be offended.”

The outrage machine is so wonderful and well-oiled and efficient that it is easy to feel that it is right. Many individual times, it feels right. He shouldn’t have said that. I don’t approve of her joke. But on net, the effect is silencing.

And it’s interesting to map our disapproval in the context of today’s outrage (well, possibly yesterday’s — the cycle moves so quickly) over the pulling of “The Interview” from theaters. That indignation was pointed in a different direction than usual. It’s one thing when we go silent in the face of a threat. That, we can tell, is wrong. That is censorship. That is our free speech being shuttered. That must not stand.
And yet that's the precise endpoint for the Outrage-Industrial Complex: a sinister form of social control whose ultimate goal is silencing you and your thoughts (however incendiary, trite or stupid they may be).

You may think "The Interview"/North Korea incident is an exaggerated example, but it isn't. They may have threatened and carried out terrorist hacks against Sony Pictures, but how is that different from some idiot who is "so outraged" they publish names/addresses of people who have pissed them off? Or bombard a workplace with emails to try and get someone fired? Or file malicious law suits or seek frivolous indictments, simply because someone made you mad?

I love social media (duh). I enjoy being able to blog, tweet, post, like, share and write about things that generally piss me off. But we've become so unforgiving of routine mistakes today, where someone says something that "offends" you and boom! the world is going to end for that guy, because gosh darnit, I'm offended! We have fat shaming, conservative shaming, liberal shaming, slut shaming, religious shaming...on and on.

Do me a favor: the next time you get really worked up about something (irony alert: kinda like this post, right? Outrage about outrage?), by all means express yourself, but spare us the demand for a pound of flesh.

You don't have a right to be offended. But people do have a right to be stupid. Including you and your "outrage."

UPDATE: NYT columnist Ross Douthat hits on similar themes in his column today (12/21/14) albeit from a more conservative perspective:
OF course it had to escalate this way. We live in a time of consistent gutlessness on the part of institutions notionally committed to free speech and intellectual diversity, a time of canceled commencement invitations and C.E.O.s defenestrated for their political donations, a time of Twitter mobs, trigger warnings and cringing public apologies. A time when journalists and publishers tiptoe around Islamic fundamentalism, when free speech is under increasing pressure on both sides of the Atlantic, when a hypersensitive political correctness has the whip hand on many college campuses.

So why should anyone be remotely surprised that Kim Jong-un decided to get in on the “don’t offend me” act?

Nor is it all that different from the arguments used in the United States to justify canceling an increasing number of commencement speakers — including Condoleezza Rice and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Christine Lagarde — when some hothouse-flower campus activists decided they couldn’t bear to sit and hear them. Or the mentality that forced out the C.E.O. and co-founder of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, when it was revealed that he had once donated money to a ballot initiative that opposed same-sex marriage. Or the free-floating, shape-shifting outrage that now pervades the Internet, always looking for some offensive or un-P.C. remark to fasten on and furiously attack — whether the perpetrator is a TV personality or some unlucky political staffer, hapless and heretofore obscure.
He goes on to make it sound like this is just a liberal thing, ignoring conservatism's over the top, reactionary bouts of P.C.myopia (see here, here and here for starters), but his larger point on the Outrage-Industrial Complex and its snuffing out of free expression stands.
“We cannot have a society,” President Obama said on Friday, when asked about the Sony hack, “where some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.”

In theory, that’s absolutely right. But in practice, Kim Jong-un has our culture’s number: Letting angry people impose a little censorship is just the way we live right now.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Concentration Camp for Women and Children Opens in Texas

Detention Center For Women and Children Presented as Deterrent:

While Mr. Obama has offered protection from deportation and work permits to millions of unauthorized immigrants, he has also ordered efforts to reinforce the southwest border to prevent a new surge of illegal immigration. The 50-acre center in Dilley, 85 miles northeast of Laredo, will hold up to 2,400 migrants who have illegally crossed the border and is especially designed to hold women and their children.

Standing on a dirt road lined with cabins in a barren compound enclosed by fencing, [Homeland Security Director Jeh] Johnson delivered a blunt message to families without legal papers considering a trip to the United States: “It will now be more likely that you will be detained and sent back.”
Damn straight. For all the drubbing the president takes from the brain-dead right for his supposed "amnesty" program that allows a path to citizenship for up to 4 million undocumented folks here in the U.S., the bigger surprise is why people aren't up in arms over his 1.5 million deportations over the past six years, including busting up thousands of families under the Secure Communities Act. 

Now, it's about to get worse.
The administration’s huge expansion of family detention has drawn similarly angry criticism from advocates, lawyers and faith leaders on the other side, who argue that prolonged confinement is inappropriate for young children and mothers who pose no security risks. Until now, the largest permanent facility for migrant families was a center in Pennsylvania with about 100 beds.

“It is inhumane to house young mothers with children in restrictive detention facilities as if they are criminals,” Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, the chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, said Monday. “Already traumatized from their journey, these families are very vulnerable and need care and support, not further emotional and psychological harm.”
So what's driving the bus behind this effort? You guessed it: privatized prison companies who continue to make billions off of immigrant detention.
Mr. Johnson said the short-term funding had created uncertainty for the department’s border and counterterrorism missions, including complicating funding for new detention beds.

“This facility costs money,” Mr. Johnson said. The Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison company that will run the center, estimates the cost at $296 a day for each detainee, officials said.
Wowzer. The average per day cost to house a prisoner in the U.S. is $68 a day (or $25,000 annually; $45,000 per year for the most maximum security inmates). These private prison companies are extorting from the tax payers a rate four times that, arguing it costs them over $106,000 annually to house an immigrant

Bend over and grab your ankles, folks.
Dilley will begin receiving migrants in coming days. Officials refurbished barracks that had been a camp for workers in this oil and gas boomtown. About 480 women and children will be housed here while a much larger, permanent facility is built next door, officials said.

During a guided tour Monday, reporters saw orderly cabins that seemed likely to provide relief, at least initially, for migrants, many from Central America, after the punishing journey to the border. Each cabin, designed for up to eight people, was furnished with a small kitchen, couches and a flat-screen television. On the wall in the bathroom were instructions on the use and disposal of toilet paper.

In the bedrooms were bunk beds and cribs stocked with baby jumpsuits and blankets, diapers, tiny socks and toys — reminders of the young detainees to come. In a mobile trailer was a nursery school, run by a private contractor, with small chairs and colorful playspaces. A classroom for older children had computers and a sign saying: “Welcome! Bienvenido!”
LOL. I guess it beats "Arbeit Macht Frei."
Many advocates are determined to fight the administration’s plans. Lawyers and mental health professionals who assisted women in Artesia said prolonged detention had proved damaging to mothers and their children.

Many of the women were fleeing severe sexual abuse and domestic violence at home. A group of lawyers from the American Immigration Lawyers Association represented 12 women in Artesia whose asylum claims were heard by judges, and the women won every case. The women, often revealing their experiences for the first time, told stories of serial rape by husbands and beatings of their children with belts and pistols.

One woman was granted asylum after she fled a gang that killed her brother, shot her husband and kidnapped and raped her 14-year-old stepdaughter.

Stephen Manning, an immigration lawyer who led the team, said the legal effort in Artesia had relied on volunteers who came from as far away as Portland, Ore., and Chicago. The lawyers association does not have the capability to mount a new volunteer effort in Dilley for many more migrants, Mr. Manning said. Homeland Security officials have insisted on requiring high bond for the women to be released, he said.

“I have no idea what we will do,” Mr. Manning said. “I’m at a loss for words to imagine what Dilley will look like with so many 6-year-olds detained behind razor wire.”
You wanna know what it's going to look like? This is what it's going to look like:
  And good luck with that.

Dumb and Dumber

Psychologists Put CIA on Path to Torture:

Almost immediately after transferring the first important prisoner they had captured since the 9/11 attacks to a secret prison in Thailand, officials of the Central Intelligence Agency met at the agency’s headquarters to debate two questions they had been discussing for months. Who would interrogate Abu Zubaydah, and how?

A C.I.A. lawyer at the April 1, 2002, meeting suggested the name of a psychologist, James Mitchell, who had been on contract for several months, analyzing Al Qaeda for the agency’s Office of Technical Service, the arm of the C.I.A. that creates disguises and builds James Bond-like spy gadgets.
Snicker. And check his picture on the right. This is the game guy who said the CIA agents were running a "sissy program" and needed to "nut it up." He's quite the manly man, isn't he? LOL.
In the months that followed, Mr. Mitchell, a former Air Force explosives expert and trainer, and later his partner, Bruce Jessen, another psychologist and former Air Force officer, designed, led and directed the interrogations and became the prime advocates for what is now widely considered to have been torture. In the process, they made tens of millions of dollars under contracts that their critics within the C.I.A. warned at the time gave them financial incentives to repeatedly use the most brutal techniques.

Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen had worked as trainers at the Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program, which subjected American airmen to the kind of interrogation they might face if captured so they could learn to resist it. Building on that experience, Mr. Mitchell proposed to the C.I.A. a list of so-called enhanced interrogation tactics, including locking people in cramped boxes, shackling them in painful positions, keeping them awake for a week at a time, covering them with insects, and waterboarding, which simulates drowning and which the United States had considered torture.
These clowns, in the face of overwhelming expert opinion showing these techniques could not and would not ever produce actionable intelligence, nonetheless were the architects of some of the most brutal actions ever taken by U.S. personnel against foreign enemies.
There was broad consensus among behavioral scientists, however, that torture did not work — subjects became so eager to stop the pain that they did not provide accurate information. And Mr. Mitchell was proposing to take techniques employed in simulations and use them for actual interrogations.

The Senate report indicates that at least some information suggesting that SERE methods were ineffective as interrogation tactics was never shared with the Justice Department. Nevertheless, the department authorized the techniques, and the C.I.A. asked Mr. Mitchell to use them.

“After a lot of soul searching, I agreed to do it,” Mr. Mitchell said. “But I knew that at that moment, my life as I knew it was over. I went through my ethical obligations, and decided for me, the least worst choice was to help save American lives. It felt like something was going to happen at any minute. I felt like you had to do something.”

In a lengthy interview last week after the C.I.A. released him from an order forbidding his talking about his role in its program, Mr. Mitchell said the speed of his hiring was a surprise even to him. “I never knew how that happened,” he said. “I just got a phone call.”

But, he said, it was not something he sought. “I didn’t knock on the gate and say, ‘Let me torture people,’ ” he said.
For a shrink, this guy sure is dense. I wonder if he realizes he just admitted he tortured people in that sentence above?
Both men are now retired — Mr. Mitchell to Florida and Mr. Jessen to Spokane, Wash. But both have faced continuing problems from their role in the torture program, and the C.I.A. is obligated to keep paying the legal expenses of Mitchell and Jessen Associates through 2021.

Mr. Mitchell said he disagreed with the Senate committee’s conclusions, although he said he was “fascinated” by the report because it has revealed things to him that he did not know. “I was just a cog in the machine, ” he said.

Above all, he disputes that he was in control of the interrogation program. “The idea that I was managing things and running things is not true,” he said.

But, he added, “it would be a lie to say I didn’t have influence.”
Ah, the old Nuremberg defense: I was just following orders, I was just a cog in the machine, I had no influence.

Back in the old days, according to Senator John McCain, the United States tried Japanese torturers who waterboarded U.S. servicemen, then summarily executed them because waterboarding and its authorization is illegal.

I wonder if he feels these architects of torture, and those who ultimately signed off on its implementation, deserve the same fate?

Postscript: The former VP Dick Cheney says we didn't prosecute and execute Japanese soldiers for waterboarding, but "other atrocities." Actually he's wrong, as the record reflects, but it seems a concerted effort at political misdirection more than factual dismissal.

In other news, anyone wanna bet Cheney takes the pardon Obama gives him on Christmas Eve 2016?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Moral Panic and Sexual Assault on Campus

Let me start this by saying: you can support victims of sexual assault on campus and advocate for ways to reduce these crimes, while simultaneously recognizing that college campuses are not "havens for rape or sexual assault" or gang rape. I'm not sure why these ideas are seen as mutually exclusive, but they aren't.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report yesterday that reinforces the latter argument: our colleges are not den's of sexual victimization.

A study of sexual assault released by the federal government on Thursday challenges conventional wisdom about the heightened danger on college campuses, finding that women there are less likely than nonstudents to be victims. College women are also less likely, the study found, to report the incidents to the police.

The rate of rape and other sexual assault over the past two decades was 1.2 times higher for nonstudents of college age than for students, according to the study, by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. It showed an average of 7.6 cases per 1,000 nonstudents, compared with 6.1 per 1,000 college women. For the most recent year, 2013, those rates were almost identical, according to the study, which focuses on women ages 18 to 24.

The incidence of rape and other sexual assault has declined for college students, to 4.4 per 1,000 in 2013 from 9.2 per 1,000 in 1997. The researchers who conducted the study, however, said that the decline was not statistically significant.
I'm not sure why that's considered not statistically's a 50% reduction in rates of victimization on college campuses in the past 15 years. Meaning, our campuses are actually safer today than they were in 1997.
Some researchers say the numbers released this week show that the peril has been exaggerated.

"When a student has been a victim of rape or sexual assault, there are historically problems with the way they’ve been treated, but that doesn’t mean that colleges are these pits of violence," said Callie Marie Rennison, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Colorado at Denver who has studied sexual assault. "I am sad that parents feel afraid to send their children off to college, thinking they’re going to be victimized."
A recent Rolling Stone article, which depicted a "gang rape" in a U-Va fraternity house and an indifferent reaction from administrators, is now under fire for having exaggerated, if not completely fabricated, the extent of the claims. And it's these kinds of stories which fuel the moral panic.
Even as Rolling Stone’s Nov. 19 story “A Rape on Campus” unraveled last week, the magazine claimed that writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely did her due diligence in investigating an alleged gang rape on Sept. 28, 2012, at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia that had victimized a then-freshman by the name of Jackie. “Dozens” of Jackie’s friends, Rolling Stone told this blog, had spoken with Erdely for the story — some off the record, some on the record.
“Dozens,” of course, means 24-plus.

As a second heavily reported story by Washington Post’s local staff has revealed, however, Erdely’s reportorial sweep didn’t net three rather critical friends. “Randall,” “Cindy” and “Andy” were identified in the Rolling Stone piece as three eager helpers who came to Jackie’s aid on the night of Sept. 28, 2012, when she allegedly experienced a traumatic situation. The three told The Post that the story reported by Rolling Stone doesn’t match what Jackie told them that night.
In many ways, this is a separate issue, more about journalism and the lack of journalistic integrity. But the rush to judgment when the article was published, which almost brought down the U-Va president, was astonishing.

I'm a Rolling Stone subscriber and confess when I read the article, my first thought was "this is bullshit." It was so over the top, it read more like the author's pornographic fantasies than it did what happened to a student on the U-Va campus. And then it began to unravel, potentially setting back the victim's rights advocacy movement.

Articles like this then fuel the deniers or "truthers" who claim sexual assault isn't a problem and are nothing more than stories victims make up. It also hardened the extreme advocates into taking absurdist positions, and refusing to back down from their support of the story. It's thus ironic that Rolling Stone's "mission" in publishing the article, to "call attention to the sexual violence on American college campuses," may, in fact, have set the movement back, doing more harm than good.

Regardless, what the statistics show, and what is often portrayed in the media and in our political circus, are not statistically related. The media hypes the "epidemic" of sexual assault on campuses because nothing sells soap quite like fear and good old fashioned moral panic. And the "outrage industry," which consumes most of this media, is a privileged group anyway.

Sadly, we spill a lot of ink and spend an inordinate amount of time discussing victims and perpetrators on college campuses because they are largely white, middle class, virtuous, and privileged (the exact ingredients necessary for a good crime story). Meanwhile, poor women and women of color, who are, statistically, far more likely to be sexually assaulted, raped and victimized, rarely get mentioned because the outrage industry could not care less. "Check your privilege" indeed.

But back to the new BJS study.
The new report sheds light on a variety of aspects of sexual assault involving college-age women. The offender is known to the victim in about 80 percent of rape and sexual-assault cases, it says. Among nonstudent victims, 67 percent of rapes and other sexual assaults are not reported to the police, while among college victims, 80 percent do not go to the police. While some college students report assaults to campus authorities, many do not report such incidents to the police because the criminal-justice system has frequently failed to pursue the complaints.
Which gets us back to another post I wrote last summer, on why these cases need to be adjudicated in the criminal justice system and taken out of the hands of college administrators. Philip Cohen at the Chronicle agrees:
As we endure scandal after scandal concerning sexual assaults on college campuses—scandals that repeatedly show administrators failing to properly investigate, punish, or educate their way out of the problem—I fear that we are drawing the wrong conclusions. Colleges don’t have the ability to investigate sex crimes or the right to properly punish them any more than they can enforce the law regarding robbery or homicide. Those failures compromise colleges’ most important obligation and best hope for solving the problem: educating students to change the culture around sexual violence.

Although not explicit in the rationale for this approach, the lower standard of proof required to bring campus disciplinary action—including expulsion—is surely attractive to antirape activists, as it is for other civil-rights advocates who pursue civil remedies. If getting beyond reasonable doubt is more difficult for sex crimes than for other offenses, relying on campus proceedings may be justified. Doing so is also quicker and less public, and the traditional view of colleges as providing parentlike supervision over their students adds legitimacy to campus authorities.

But this downgrades sexual violence from a real crime to a women’s issue. And there is no evidence that it is working to reduce sexual violence on and around campuses. There are, however, lots of stories of failure, on campuses ranging from small, elite colleges to big public institutions.

Conservatives object to the feminist agenda of ratcheting up consent rules. Civil libertarians mourn the presumption of innocence and due process. And feminists are stuck between demanding more action and protesting the harmful consequences of the actions colleges do take. In too many cases, rather than helping to punish sexual assault and prevent its occurrence, these failures contribute to reluctance in reporting, and—as in the recent case at the University of Virginia—undermine trust in both the authorities and the victims who turn to them for help.
Precisely. Rape and sexual assault are criminal issues, they're not "women's issues." But the more we use Title IX standards (and essentially equate sexual violence with gendered sexual harassment) the more we demean and trivialize the actual crime of rape.
There are two compelling reasons to turn our efforts away from campus authorities and back to the criminal-justice system. First, the state enforcers of criminal law are more susceptible to public pressure and advocacy than are the thousands of disparate colleges and administrators who operate between public and private scrutiny, and whose interests are always divided between doing the right thing and protecting their reputations. For example, laws restricting the introduction of women’s prior sexual conduct at trial, and criminalizing marital rape—once they achieved a foothold—spread through most of the country in a generation (way too slow, and way too late, but sadly still a relative success story).

Second, experience so far painfully demonstrates that colleges are not competent to adjudicate and prevent sexual violence. As institutions, they bring to the task a toxic mix of unqualified investigators, underdeveloped judiciary processes, and conflicts of interest that undermine both their effectiveness and their legitimacy.
Almost word for word what I wrote back in June. If you were sexually assaulted at a mall, you would call the police, not Paul Blart, mall cop. If you were sexually assaulted at a Falcons game, you would call the police, not the Falcons management. If you were sexually assaulted at home, you'd call the police, not your insurance company. Why on earth do we expect victims of assault on campus to call the Dean's office and not the police?

As I wrote: "Colleges and universities must be put out of the sexual assault/rape investigation business. Period.  Rape is not sexual harassment, and no one on a college or university campus is qualified to adjudicate such horrific incidences."

Moral panics are as old as society itself, and almost always driven by agendas and interests not your own. We can't begin to understand the issue of sexual assault on campus until we understand sexual assault everywhere.

And frankly, we're never going to do anything about the problem until we stop focusing solely on victims and start focusing more on the perpetrators.

It's simplistic and almost borderline trite, but: the way to end sexual assault and rape in society is to get men to stop committing sexual assault and rape.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


George Will and I agree on practically nothing (including a few things in this column, like his praise of "Broken Windows" policing). But his larger point, on the over-criminalization of American society, and why Eric Garner died, not just because of brutal law enforcement, but because of inept and slipshod law making, is spot on.

Overcriminalization has become a national plague. And when more and more behaviors are criminalized, there are more and more occasions for police, who embody the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence, and who fully participate in humanity’s flaws, to make mistakes.

Harvey Silverglate, a civil liberties attorney, titled his 2009 book “Three Felonies a Day” to indicate how easily we can fall afoul of the United States’ metastasizing body of criminal laws. Professor Douglas Husak of Rutgers University says that approximately 70 percent of American adults have, usually unwittingly, committed a crime for which they could be imprisoned. In his 2008 book, “Overcriminalization: The Limits of the Criminal Law,” Husak says that more than half of the 3,000 federal crimes — itself a dismaying number — are found not in the Federal Criminal Code but in numerous other statutes. And, by one estimate, at least 300,000 federal regulations can be enforced by agencies wielding criminal punishments. Citing Husak, professor Stephen L. Carter of the Yale Law School, like a hammer driving a nail head flush to a board, forcefully underscores the moral of this story:

Society needs laws; therefore it needs law enforcement. But “overcriminalization matters” because “making an offense criminal also means that the police will go armed to enforce it.” The job of the police “is to carry out the legislative will.” But today’s political system takes “bizarre delight in creating new crimes” for enforcement. And “every act of enforcement includes the possibility of violence.” 
That's the defacto assumption of law enforcement. It doesn't matter if you're a gun-wielding lunatic running through the streets, or a 90 year old grandmother being pulled over on a routine traffic stop. EVERY encounter includes the possibility of violence.

Even busting someone for selling (or smoking) cigarettes.
Carter continues: “It’s unlikely that the New York Legislature, in creating the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes, imagined that anyone would die for violating it. But a wise legislator would give the matter some thought before creating a crime. Officials who fail to take into account the obvious fact that the laws they’re so eager to pass will be enforced at the point of a gun cannot fairly be described as public servants.”

Garner lived in part by illegally selling single cigarettes untaxed by New York jurisdictions. He lived in a progressive state and city that, being ravenous for revenue and determined to save smokers from themselves, have raised to $5.85 the combined taxes on a pack of cigarettes. To the surprise of no sentient being, this has created a black market in cigarettes that are bought in states that tax them much less. Garner died in a state that has a Cigarette Strike Force.

He lived and died in a country with about 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. In 2012, one of every 108 adults was behind bars, many in federal prisons containing about 40 percent more inmates than they were designed to hold.

Most of today’s 2.2 million prisoners will be coming back to their neighborhoods, and few of them will have been improved by the experience of incarceration. This will be true even if they did not experience the often deranging use of prolonged solitary confinement, which violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishments” and is, to put things plainly, torture.

The scandal of mass incarceration is partly produced by the frivolity of the political class, which uses the multiplication of criminal offenses as a form of moral exhibitionism. This, like Eric Garner’s death, is a pebble in the mountain of evidence that American government is increasingly characterized by an ugly and sometimes lethal irresponsibility.
We need not only responsible sentencing reform, but we need to decriminalize a plethora of behaviors that are not a threat to anyone in society. The "metastasizing body of criminal laws" is the government (and thus enforcement) run amok.

The Garner case is complicated and shows several things: law enforcement on militarized steroids, a DA system that is broken (DA's should never, under any circumstances, be allowed to decide the fate of a police officer charged with a crime due to conflict of interest), and the like, but frankly, the libertarians have this one right. If you're not doing something that threatens another person's right to life, liberty or property, it should not be illegal, and the police should not be involved in the least.

And that includes even something like selling un-taxed cigarettes, which is a direct result of the anti-smoking zealots and their creation of  a black market for cheaper smokes via higher taxes. When we have police departments with "Cigarette Strike Forces", you know we've gone completely berserk.

Eric Garner died just as much at the hands of the anti-smoking fascists in this country as he did in that illegal chokehold.

A cruel irony, one would note.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Senate Panel Faults CIA Torture, Deceit, Brutality in Terrorism Interrogation:

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday issued a sweeping indictment of the Central Intelligence Agency’s program to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks, drawing on millions of internal C.I.A. documents to illuminate practices that it said were more brutal — and far less effective — than the agency acknowledged either to Bush administration officials or to the public.

The long-delayed report delivers a withering judgment on one of the most controversial tactics of a twilight war waged over a dozen years. The Senate committee’s investigation, born of what its chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, said was a need to reckon with the excesses of this war, found that C.I.A. officials routinely misled the White House and Congress about the information it obtained, and failed to provide basic oversight of the secret prisons it established around the world.

Mr. Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, said repeatedly that the detention and interrogation program was humane and legal. The intelligence gleaned during interrogations, he said, was instrumental both in thwarting terrorism plots and in capturing senior figures of Al Qaeda.

Mr. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and a number of former C.I.A. officials have said more recently that the program was essential for ultimately finding Osama bin Laden, who was killed by members of the Navy SEALs in May 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The Intelligence Committee’s report refutes each of these claims, using the C.I.A.'s internal records to present 20 case studies that bolster its conclusion that the most extreme interrogation methods played no role in disrupting terrorism plots, capturing terrorist leaders, or even finding Bin Laden.
Quelle surprise. I'm not going to get into the partisanship of the report or its release (irrelevant), nor am I going to address the orchestrated defense being put on by the CIA and former Bush administration officials (also irrelevant). I have not thumbed through the entire 528 page Executive Summary (the actual report is more than 6,000 pages long), but from what I've seen, heard and read about it, it is basically a point for point confirmation of everything that has been published previously, and that most of us who have been teaching about the war on terrorism for the past 12 years knew already.

Except, in more grisly detail: about "rectal feedings"; about the black-op site known as COBALT; and with more than a few surprises regarding the role that psychologists played in implementing the more sinister and torturous aspects of detainee treatment.
The torture of prisoners at times was so extreme that some C.I.A. personnel tried to put a halt to the techniques, but were told by senior agency officials to continue the interrogation sessions.

The Senate report quotes a series of August 2002 cables from a C.I.A. facility in Thailand, where the agency’s first prisoner was held. Within days of the Justice Department’s approval to begin waterboarding the prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, the sessions became so extreme that some C.I.A. officers were “to the point of tears and choking up,” and several said they would elect to be transferred out of the facility if the brutal interrogations continued.
But at each turn in the maze, they were assured what they were doing was legal and, in fact, to "nut it up," and "stop acting like sissies." 
During one waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” The interrogations lasted for weeks, and some C.I.A. officers began sending messages to the agency’s headquarters in Virginia questioning the utility — and the legality — of what they were doing. But such questions were rejected.

“Strongly urge that any speculative language as to the legality of given activities or, more precisely, judgment calls as to their legality vis-à-vis operational guidelines for this activity agreed upon and vetted at the most senior levels of the agency, be refrained from in written traffic (email or cable traffic),” wrote Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the head of the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorism Center. “Such language is not helpful.”

On the other side were James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two former military psychologists who had advised the agency to use waterboarding and other coercive methods. With the support of C.I.A. headquarters, they insisted that Mr. Nashiri and other prisoners were still withholding crucial information, and that the application of sufficient pain and disorientation would eventually force them to disclose it. They thought the other faction was “running a ‘sissified’ interrogation program,” the report says.

If those questioning Mr. Nashiri just had “the latitude to use the full range of enhanced exploitation and interrogation measures,” including waterboarding, Dr. Jessen wrote, they would be able to get more information. Such treatment, he wrote, after the two previous months of extremely harsh handling of Mr. Nashiri, would produce “the desired level of helplessness.”
I'd use the salutation "Dr" very carefully here. These two clowns, Jessen and Mitchell, were somehow certified to practice psychology in the U.S. and would, in the best traditions of Mengele and Clauberg, go on to carry out a 21st century version of the Nazi "Verscharft Vernehmung" or enhanced interrogations, via their own company. They were paid more than $80 million in a five year period by the CIA, even though neither Jessen nor Mitchell knew one thing about interrogation, or even psychology for that matter. 
And Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen, identified by the pseudonyms Grayson Swigert and Hammond Dunbar in the report, had not conducted a single real interrogation. They had helped run a Cold War-era training program for the Air Force in which personnel were given a taste of the harsh treatment they might face if captured by Communist enemies. The program — called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape — had never been intended for use in American interrogations, and involved methods that had produced false confessions when used on American airmen held by the Chinese in the Korean War.

The program allowed the psychologists to assess their own work — they gave it excellent grades — and to charge a daily rate of $1,800 each, four times the pay of other interrogators, to waterboard detainees. Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen later started a company that took over the C.I.A. program from 2005 until it was closed in 2009. The C.I.A. paid it $81 million, plus $1 million to protect the company from legal liability.
One would hope these goons face war crimes charges, ala Nuremberg, before this is all over. Or at the very least, one certainly hopes they've been stripped of their licenses to practice psychology.

And if you wanted to go up the chain of command regarding war crimes, how high could you go? The report seems to conclude that those at the highest levels (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld) were all given degrees of plausible deniability by the CIA, withholding the more gruesome details in order to avoid potential prosecution for war crimes later. But some of their own writings since being out of office suggests they knew more than the report says.
For four years, according to Central Intelligence Agency records, no one from the agency ever came to the Oval Office to give President George W. Bush a full briefing on what was happening in the dark dungeons of Afghanistan and Eastern Europe. For four years, interrogators stripped, slammed and soaked their prisoners without the president’s being told exactly what was going on.

The report, the declassified executive summary of a larger classified study prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee, has raised questions about what Mr. Bush knew and what the C.I.A. told him about an interrogation program that has tarred the United States as a nation that tortured. The emails, memos, reports and other documents examined by the Senate committee collectively portray a White House that approved the brutal questioning of suspects but was kept in the dark about aspects of the program, including whether it really worked.

The committee report contrasts with Mr. Bush’s own account of the origin of the interrogation program in the spring of 2002 with the capture of Abu Zubaydah, a top Qaeda figure. In his memoir, “Decision Points,” Mr. Bush wrote that the C.I.A. had drawn up a list of interrogation techniques approved by the Justice Department. “I took a look at the list of techniques,” he wrote. “There were two that I felt went too far, even if they were legal. I directed the C.I.A. not to use them.” He did not identify the techniques in the book.

When Mr. Bush’s book was published in 2010, it confused some in the C.I.A., who said they did not think he had ever been briefed on specific interrogation techniques. John A. Rizzo, a former C.I.A. general counsel, wrote in his own book published this year that neither he nor Mr. Tenet was aware of Mr. Bush being briefed on specific techniques.
Of course, as the Nuremberg Charter showed us, it doesn't really matter if those at the top knew the exact specific details of what underlings were doing or not. At the end of the day, if it happened on your watch, you are culpable and could certainly be found guilty. Plausible deniability does not generally apply in issues of international law and war crimes tribunals.

In fact, seven former, high ranking Bush administration officials have already been found guilty of war crimes in absentia (including the former president), and several no longer travel abroad because there is a real fear of being arrested and possibly deported to stand trial in other countries (Canada has apparently tried to have Dick Cheney extradited several times).

Ironically, the head of the ACLU published an op-ed yesterday calling on Obama to pardon Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al as a preemptive move against any action that could be taken domestically, and as a way to get them to tacitly acknowledge, vis-a-vis the acceptance of a pardon, their role in authorizing torture. But A. I doubt that would ever happen, and B. it still wouldn't prevent them from being indicted or tried internationally anyway.

So I guess Sen. Feinstein's statement on the release of the report is about all that can really come from this. Absent any kind of real prosecution for their actions, "History will judge us by our commitment to a just society, governed by law, and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say 'never again.'"

An ugly truth that, like the Wall Street gang rape of the American economy leading up to 2008, and other crimes committed by elites, will never result in anyone being held formally, judiciously accountable for their actions.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I Love The Onion

Obama Calls for Turret-Mounted Video Cameras On All Police Tanks:

In an effort to restore the public’s faith in law enforcement, President Obama made an impassioned appeal this week, calling for the installation of turret-mounted video cameras on all police tanks. “This initiative will ensure that police officers across the country will be held accountable for their actions as they pour out of an 18-ton combat vehicle in response to a routine call,” said Obama, who announced a detailed plan to allocate funding to equip every single armored personnel carrier, landmine-resistant SWAT van, and battle-ready half-track with an onboard camcorder to monitor police conduct. “If the police are forced to discharge a high-caliber, vehicle-mounted weapon in the line of duty, we’ll know why. Furthermore, this policy will discourage the misuse of shell-proof tanks in our communities.” The president added that he is hopeful that turret-mounted video cameras would help to reestablish trust between officers equipped with military-grade technology and the populations they are sworn to protect.