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Culture, Values, Politics and Crime

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A commenter recently took me to task, disturbed that I criticized the Administration for its tepid response to the Russian-sponsored mass murder of 298 people in the Ukraine.  The commenter thought my remarks went too far in the direction of a strictly political attack.

Let me say that reasonable minds could differ about that post.  My own view is that (1) the episode was indeed mass murder, (2) our government's response was, and is, feckless, both for moral and practical purposes, and (3) fecklessness in the face of murder, and of crime generally, is a huge problem just now, and I'm going to continue to talk about it when it rears its head.


Ever heard the complaint that the criminal justice system punishes only the poor and powerless?

The Opposition's All-Star Lineup

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"Thank God for your enemies" is one of many wise lessons my father taught me.

I give special thanks to them today, reminded to do so by Doug Berman's post, "Former Rep. (and former felon) Duke Cunningham now says "my Democrat colleagues were right and I was wrong on some issues as far as criminal justice." The post sets forth the deep thoughts of Mr. Cunningham  --  a Republican ex-con who was given an eight year prison term for selling his office  --  on the numerous and flagrant deficiencies of the criminal justice system.

Other Republicans who have made the New Enlightenment All-Star team include fellow ex-cons Bernie Kerik and George Ryan

I wonder if it ever occurs to our friends on the other side to reflect on the astounding self-servingness of a bunch of corrupt officials ruminating on how they suddenly became victims of The Fascist Prosecution because  --  ready now?  -- their years of corruption got exposed and punished.  I also wonder if it occurs to our friends to ask themselves how these people, principally by virtue of hubris, self-justification and self-pity, became experts on the criminal justice system, positioned to lecture the rest of us on its flaws.  Finally, I wonder if any thinking has been done about what it means that people of this sort have to be enlisted in the flagging campaign for sentencing "reform."


DOJ to Investigate Outhouse

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No, I am not making this up.  The Omaha World-Herald reports:

The U.S. Department of Justice has joined the discussions over a controversial float in the Norfolk [Nebraska] Independence Day parade.

The Department sent a member of its Community Relations Service team, which gets involved in discrimination disputes, to a Thursday meeting about the issue. Also at the meeting were the NAACP, the Norfolk mayor and The Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

The Odd Fellows organized the parade. One of the floats included a zombie-like mannequin standing near an outhouse labeled "Obama Presidential Library."

The float's creator, Dale Remmich, has said the mannequin depicted himself, not President Barack Obama. He said he is upset with the president's handling of the Veterans Affairs Department.

John Fund on Holder's DoJ

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Two weeks from today, Tuesday, July 22, the Federalist Society of Sacramento will have a lunch event with John Fund, discussing his book (with Hans von Spakovsky), Obama's Enforcer: Eric Holder's Justice Department.

The event announcement is here.

Amazon's page for the book is here.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

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I've been arguing forever that the same central idea underlies both criminality and the welfare state:  That the individual is not responsible for his life and decisions, the government is.

I've gone on and on about the subject.  I must now confess that one protest sign summarizes it more succinctly than I ever did.
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports that convictions of private lawyers for federal offenses have increased sharply over the last few years, at least in one jurisdiction.

As the article puts it:

According to the U.S. Attorney's office there, the number of Nevada attorneys convicted of serious federal crimes is on the rise.

"There's been a significant uptick," David Clark, chief counsel for the State Bar of Nevada, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "It's a combination of economic realities and the increased vigilance on the part of federal prosecutors to go after lawyers.

Mind you, the overall total is not huge. Between 2008 and 2014, 23 lawyers--" mostly from Las Vegas"--were convicted, most for financial crimes such as tax evasion and bank or mortgage fraud, the Review-Journal reported.


I have more than a few doubts about DOJ's priorities, but if the Department is paying more attention to the private bar, congratulations to Eric Holder.  I've often wondered about the client-uber-alles "ethics" of the private bar, but, for however that may be, there is absolutely no excuse for looking the other way at outright criminality.

Fifty years of experience unambiguously teaches us that we get more crime with less prison, and less crime with more prison.

Notwithstanding this established fact, there is a big "reform" movement just now urging us to go back to less prison (and thus more crime, although the reform crowd won't say that and will call you a racist if you do).

So, yes, we can have more crime to go on top of....

Meanwhile, in real America, veterans are denied care. Other Americans are forced to buy insurance they don't want at costs they can't afford while their taxes bail out insurance companies in league with the Obama administration. Meanwhile, in the real world, Americans are abandoned when under attack by terrorists in Benghazi, and terrorists are released from Guantánamo in return for an American who abandoned his fellow soldiers. 

And now the Obama administration stands and watches as Iraq, abandoned after a noble if difficult effort on the part of American soldiers and Marines sent to Iraq with the blessing not just of George W. Bush and John McCain but of Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and John Kerry, falls apart under the assault of an al Qaeda army that turns out not to be "on the run." 


This is not to mention a national debt we can't pay off because we've become addicted to a debt-fueled entitlement state that tells us the individual is not responsible for his life and choices, but the government is.

Yes, well, giving bigger breaks to felons through "sentencing reform" fits right in, doesn't it?  Just as the power vacuum in the Middle East will be filled with terrorists, the responsibility vacuum here at home will be filled with criminals. Let's not kid ourselves.  

Today we are seeing what certainly looks like the beginning of the end of democracy in Iraq, such of it as there was.  Al Qaeda-linked insurgents have, in the last 72 hours, simply wiped out government resistance in much of the north of the country. News reports say they are 40 miles from Baghdad.

And what, you may ask, does this have to do with crime and consequences?

A couple of things.  One is that whatever law can now be said to exist in Iraq is about to be replaced with the Dark Ages, which is the less polite name of Sharia law  --  the law that approves stoning gays to death, giving a thousand lashes to women who hold hands in public, and cutting off the hands of thieves, including thieves who are ten years old.

The other thing is that the ways of thinking that have led us to this point  -- the ones listed in the title of this entry  -- are exactly the attitudes behind the push to lower criminal penalties in this country.

Retreat to failed ideas pretends to be progress. Complacency about recent success struts as "reform."  Wishful thinking pooh-poohs the painful lessons of the past. Weakness in confronting criminals masquerades as compassion.  The things we know work to keep ordinary people safe are condemned as racist thuggery, while the things we know facilitate crime are lauded as the New Enlightenment.  

We are about to see what these ways of thinking bring to the people this Administration has deserted in Iraq.  If the "Incarceration Nation" crowd wins, we won't have to wait long to see what they bring law-abiding people right here at home.


Diversity

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Former NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the commencement address at Harvard yesterday, including the following:

Repressing free expression is a natural human weakness, and it is up to us to fight it at every turn. Intolerance of ideas - whether liberal or conservative - is antithetical to individual rights and free societies, and it is no less antithetical to great universities and first-rate scholarship.

There is an idea floating around college campuses - including here at Harvard - that scholars should be funded only if their work conforms to a particular view of justice. There's a word for that idea: censorship. And it is just a modern-day form of McCarthyism.

Think about the irony: In the 1950s, the right wing was attempting to repress left wing ideas. Today, on many college campuses, it is liberals trying to repress conservative ideas, even as conservative faculty members are at risk of becoming an endangered species. And perhaps nowhere is that more true than here in the Ivy League.

What Today Is Really About

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"We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate. . .we cannot consecrate. . . we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. . .that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth. "

-- Abraham Lincoln, 1863

Jim Comey Isn't Fooled

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When President Obama named James Comey to head the FBI about a year ago, I praised the choice.  Among other things, having been an AUSA with him, I knew of Jim's independence and honesty.  I noted that he has "the integrity and apolitical nature that is essential to the FBI and  --  especially now  --  the Department of Justice."

I feel vindicated this week, now that Jim said pretty bluntly that he's not buying the President's phony line that we have al Qaeda "on the run."  His interview with the NYT makes this clear:

By Mr. Comey's own account, he [initially] brought to the job a belief, based on news media reports, that the threat from Al Qaeda was diminished. But nine months into his tenure as director, Mr. Comey acknowledges that he underestimated the threat the United States still faces from terrorism.

"I didn't have anywhere near the appreciation I got after I came into this job just how virulent those affiliates had become," Mr. Comey said, referring to offshoots of Al Qaeda in Africa and in the Middle East during an interview in his sprawling office on the seventh floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building. "There are both many more than I appreciated, and they are stronger than I appreciated."

Based on what he now knows, Mr. Comey said, he is convinced that terrorism should remain the main focus of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 


Whew!  I'm happy and comforted that the head of the FBI understands that there are more important federal priorities than reviewing how allegations of rape are handled in Missoula, Montana.

What do we know about the interplay between mental illness and violence?  Contrary to the claims made by many mental health professionals, people with mental illness do appear to have an increased risk for violence compared to the general population, although that risk varies depending on how broad or narrow mental illness is defined.  Additionally, the risk is much smaller than generally conceived of by the lay public.  Most importantly, the risk appears strongly tied to the use of drugs and alcohol, the rates of which can be exceedingly high among some populations with mental illness. 

We also know that medication compliance among those with severe mental illness, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, tends to be poor.  This if often attributed to a lack of insight by those with these severe illnesses that they indeed have a medical illness that requires consistent treatment.  But another reason less often stated in official publications but discussed professionally is the fact that many psychiatric medications have bad side-effects, including significant weight gain, sedation, and gastrointestinal discomfort to name but a few. 

Despite these limitations, medication remains the primary treatment for most forms of severe mental illness.  In fact, they are vital.  Compared to no treatment at all, consistent use of medication in the treatment of psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, is linked with a range of better outcomes, including symptom severity, substance abuse, homelessness, reduced hospitalizations and many others.

Now comes a new study showing that consistent use of medication is associated with a reduction of violence among those with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  Let's just let the findings speak for themselves:

Findings

In 2006--09, 40 937 men in Sweden were prescribed antipsychotics or mood stabilisers, of whom 2657 (6·5%) were convicted of a violent crime during the study period. In the same period, 41 710 women were prescribed these drugs, of whom 604 (1·4 %) had convictions for violent crime. Compared with periods when participants were not on medication, violent crime fell by 45% in patients receiving antipsychotics (hazard ratio [HR] 0·55, 95% CI 0·47--0·64) and by 24% in patients prescribed mood stabilisers (0·76, 0·62--0·93). However, we identified potentially important differences by diagnosis--mood stabilisers were associated with a reduced rate of violent crime only in patients with bipolar disorder. The rate of violence reduction for antipsychotics remained between 22% and 29% in sensitivity analyses that used different outcomes (any crime, drug-related crime, less severe crime, and violent arrest), and was stronger in patients who were prescribed higher drug doses than in those prescribed low doses. Notable reductions in violent crime were also recorded for depot medication (HR adjusted for concomitant oral medications 0·60, 95% CI 0·39--0·92).

Another Prosecution Priority for DOJ

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My last post suggested that the Justice Department prosecute at least some of the thousands of Obamacare applicants who have intentionally falsified statements of their income in order to bilk the taxpayers for even more than they're being bilked out of already.  

There is second priority I would suggest for DOJ examination  --  a priority that, it seems, the Department may have taken up.  As the New York Times reports

The Department of Veterans Affairs' inspector general is working with federal prosecutors who are trying to determine whether criminal violations occurred at a medical center in Phoenix accused of falsifying data or creating secret waiting lists intended to hide months long delays for veterans to see doctors, a top official told a Senate committee on Thursday.

I can already hear our friends in the defense bar unpacking their standard lines, i.e., the people creating the concocted waiting lists had munched one Twinkie too many, or were victims of "bureaucracy survival syndrome" (a better-off cousin of "urban survival syndrome"), or what have you.  I also have my doubts that the Attorney General will follow through with any prosecutions, since it would be politically maladroit to expose how the Administration has actually treated veterans (while yammering endlessly about compassion etc.).

Still, one can hope.

A New Prosecution Priority for DOJ

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The lead story in the Washington Post today reports that possibly a million applicants for Obamacare subsidies may have "misstated" their income:

The government may be paying incorrect subsidies to more than 1 million Americans for their health plans in the new federal insurance marketplace...

The problem means that potentially hundreds of thousands of people are receiving bigger subsidies than they deserve. They are part of a large group of Americans who listed incomes on their insurance applications that differ significantly -- either too low or too high -- from those on file with the Internal Revenue Service.


Some of the under-reporting of income is sure to be inadvertent or mistaken; anyone who has wrestled with a Form 1040 knows that getting everything right is difficult. But we all know there's a strong likelihood that hundreds of thousands of applicants have intentionally understated their income to squeeze the government for fatter subsidies.

At the base of the financial crisis a few years back was something similar:  A huge number of people lied about their incomes and assets to obtain mortgages for which they were unqualified.  When the housing bubble burst, they couldn't pay, and the enormously painful Great Recession was underway.

DOJ should not allow something like that to happen again.  Whether one loves Obamacare or hates it, no one has the right to bilk it by cheating.  A few hundred highly publicized false statement prosecutions would go a long way toward keeping applicants honest and, therefore, keeping the program as solvent as it's going to get. 

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