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Evil, Part II

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Kent notes that WaPo columnist Richard Cohen has discovered the existence of evil. As Kent observes, this is progress.  Three years ago, Mr. Cohen took a more relativist approach.  The subject then was nothing like the grotesque beheading of a hostage (it was, instead, the behavior of the very unfortunately named Congressman Weiner), but relativism quickly balloons once it escapes, so I went after Mr. Cohen with both barrels in my comment to Kent's post.

Still, progress is progress and clarity is clarity, and I'm happy to see them.  Perhaps, in a different life, I'll see some on the editorial page of the New York Times.


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After 9/11, it briefly became acceptable across the ideological spectrum to speak of "evil."  Usually, the pseudosophisticates who dominate academia, journalism, and the political left consider it the mark of a rube to speak in terms of good and evil.  Being "advanced" requires moral relativism which requires understanding and compassion for people who commit horrendous crimes.  Murder and rape are "antisocial behavior," not evil acts.

Richard Cohen is a columnist for the WaPo who leans left but has more sense than most of his ilk.  In this column, he dares to use the e-word:

Prosecution As Payback

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Among the worst abuses of prosecutorial authority is to base a decision to prosecute on an unrelated grudge against the defendant.  Standard and Poors claims the U.S. Department of Justice has done exactly that, according to this editorial in the WSJ.

It's not a smoking gun. But Standard & Poor's claims in a new court filing that it has documents showing that government lawyers who have targeted the firm over its flawed ratings on mortgage bonds also had "intense interest in and engagement regarding S&P's downgrade of the United States."
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Justice says there was no connection between the downgrade and its decision to charge S&P. But in a Tuesday federal court filing in the Central District of California, S&P says it has obtained internal Justice documents showing "that the two topics were often linked."

The documents are under a protective order and thus not public. But it's safe to assume S&P would want to stick to the facts because federal Judge David Carter can see the documents too. If S&P is right, then Justice will have to explain why lawyers tasked with investigating pre-crisis mortgage bonds were so keenly interested in a downgrade of government debt that took place years after the mortgage bond ratings. Do prosecutors investigate every time someone expresses a skeptical view on Treasury bonds?

The Story of a Minor Crime

We often hear that the law overpunishes "non-violent" offenses. This usually means theft of some sort, and the phrase "non-violent" is basically used as a cipher to imply "non-harmful" or "not all that harmful."

So I want to tell you the story of a non-violent crime that recently came to my attention via Facebook and email messages from the parents of the victim.  I have changed the proper names to conceal the identities of the people involved.  The first message is a Facebook entry from the mother.

HIPAA Consequences

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Stewart Baker has this post at Volokh Conspiracy, "HIPAA is an arguably well-intentioned privacy law that seems to yield nothing but 'unintended' consequences."  I'm not quite as cynical on HIPAA as Stewart, and I wouldn't have said "arguably" or put "unintended" in quotes.  He is right that the law has had numerous bad consequences, though, including this gem from the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

In the name of patient privacy, a Daytona Beach, Fla., nursing home said it couldn't cooperate with police investigating allegations of a possible rape against one of its residents.

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?

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.


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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.

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