Thursday, March 13, 2008

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT? Justice Oregon Style


- The War and the Recession


Not too long ago, the Herald ran an op-ed from the Sacramento Bee, questioning why the Congress was holding very public hearings about steroid use by famous ball players. My thought at the time was why is Congress holding hearings on steroid use when they can’t find the courage to end the illegal and immoral war or impeach known war criminals like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney?

A few more questions: Why are we this week witnessing the targeting, ruination, and humiliation of a New York Governor, who has a record of going after Wall Street scamsters and holding them responsible, just because he consorted with prostitutes, when we have a President on the loose who has lied repeatedly to the American people and who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of young Americans and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis? Why aren’t the bankers, Wall Street cons and realtors in the dock for deceptively promoting speculative and inflated home sales to an American public eager for home ownership and a way to survive? Why does our City Council develop a plan to buy an over-priced building for the police department largely in secret before springing it on the citizens. Why are our water and sewer rates expanding so rapidly, if not to accommodate the new and future development that should be paying system development charges now to cover their new demands on the system? Why does Oregon spend more of its general fund on imprisoning people than it spends on higher education? Why is our expanding police bureaucracy parading their drug dog around at local sporting events? The answers vary, but are related to the need to distract us from our real problems, the tendency of bureaucracies to always expand their wealth and power, and the tendency of some politicians to serve their own interests instead of those of the community or country they represent. At its roots, it is about money and the powerful advancing their own interests. It is about elite politics—the privileged feathering their own nest at the expense of ordinary people.

A few pertinent quotes about the situation from a recent Information Clearing House newsletter (see links list for ICH):

"Politics is a means of preventing people from taking part in what properly concerns them." Paul Valery (1871-1945)

"The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws." -- Tacitus, Roman senator and historian (A.D. c.56-c.115)

"The more prohibitions there are, the poorer the people will be. The more laws are promulgated, the more thieves and bandits there will be." -- Lao-tzu, The Tao Te Ching

"Overload the police with victimless crimes and other minutiae, and eventually only creeps and bullies remain cops." -- Rick Gaber

"The State is the coldest of all cold monsters, and coldly it tells lies, and this lie drones on from its mouth: 'I, the State, am the people'." -- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus spoke Zarathustra, 1883

"Government, when it is examined, turns out to be nothing more nor less than a group of fallible men with the political force to act as though they were infallible." -- Robert LeFevre, in his essay, Aggression is Wrong

Which reminds me of Baker City citizen Vickie Valenzuela's trouble in complaining to the city about the lack of public process in the police building purchase. In tonight's Herald article about her interaction with the city (Baker City woman files complaint against city manager, by Jayson Jaycoby), the article states that "in a Feb. 29 e-mail to Valenzuela which he wrote after their meeting, Brocato suggested: "If you have issues with this process, city staff, or the city manager, you may approach the council at any meeting." Taking Brocato at his word, Ms. Valenzuela did exactly that. After admonishing her for not following their arcane procedural rules the first time she tried to speak during discussion of the police building purchase, Brocato and vice mayor Andrew Bryan had her "'refrain from personal comments' until citizens participation." Then later, according to the article, when addressing her concerns about her "insulting" treatment by Brocato and the shabby "public process," mayor Petry 'told Valenzuela he would not allow her to recite a litany of accusations against Brocato.' 'This isn't a forum for accusations or hearsay,' Petry said. '(Brocato) has no chance to defend himself.'" [Wasn't he right there responding to her earlier?]

Ah, yes, the proverbial, mind-numbing, catch-22. Broacato tells her to approach the council with her complaints and the council tells her that isn't allowed. This is how some on the council treat the citizens of Baker City. Adverse comments about the city manager aren't allowed in public meetings. Better kept under control and cover--like many other aspects of the "public process" here. Just another reason why people don't go to council meetings, why the "good old boys" remain in control, and why "democracy" remains the domain of economic and social elites.

But I digress. I wonder if George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama would have been able to run for President if they had encountered a drug sniffing dog in their youth. George would have probably been OK, given his family’s wealth and power, but poor boy Bill, and half white Barack, would likely have acquired a ruinous record. Better to use alcohol or nicotine, some of the most destructive, but legal, drugs available, than get caught experimenting with the rather more innocuous marijuana, which results in around a million arrests a year. (I don’t use illegal drugs—I have enough problems with the legal ones.) This, even though alcohol users are far more likely to be involved in assault, theft, burglary, robbery, or driving under the influence.

Baker School District, 5J buys alcohol for a staff get together with school funds, a violation of district policy with no apparent legal sanction, but God help the errant young person who plays around with marijuana, or who wears a headband in violation of school policy. Label and humiliate the latter, ignore the indiscretions of powerful local public officials. Mixed messages and dual standards--That’s “justice.”

On March 6th, The Record Courier’s Brian Addison mentioned in an editorial that the Baker City police canine drug enforcement unit was parading their drug sniffing dog through our school gym that at the time was loaded with locals and out of town visitors. It was suggested that it could be a violation of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution, which is intended to protect privacy and outlaw warrant-less or otherwise unreasonable searches and seizures. Debby Schoeningh made clear in today’s Courier that, “The Department was acting well within the scope of the law.” It’s still an interesting question, one that is often settled on a case by case basis, a process which, as Brian noted, has, in recent decades, seemingly resulted in an erosion of our rights under the 4th Amendment. Those trying to justify and expand the practice of using drug sniffing dogs, including the courts, seem to have engaged in some legal sophistry by saying that having a dog sniff you or your vehicle is not really a search—its just a dog sniffing and alerting police officers of the presence of an odor that the policeman can’t smell. In doing so, the dog’s reaction gives the officer “reasonable grounds” or “probable cause” to suspect a crime has occurred and to make a search of the person or vehicle. As long as the ensuing search is limited to areas where the dog indicates the presence of drugs, the search is judged reasonable.

Interestingly, the US Supreme Court has ruled in KYLLO v. UNITED STATES (99-8508) 190 F.3d 1041 June 11, 2001, that the use of infrared imaging scanners by police to detect suspicious activity, in this case the use of heat lamps to grow marijuana in a home, is unconstitutional without a warrant. In the majority opinion, Justice Scalia (who was joined by some liberals) wrote "The question we confront today is what limits there are upon this power of technology to shrink the realm of guaranteed privacy. To withdraw protection of this minimum expectation would be to permit police technology to erode the privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment." The majority opinion also offered a standard for determining weather detection technology is constitutional:

“We think that obtaining by sense-enhancing technology any information regarding the interior of the home that could not otherwise have been obtained without physical ‘intrusion into a constitutionally protected area’, (Silverman, 365 U.S., at 512), constitutes a search-at least where (as here) the technology in question is not in general public use.”

Why then, should the police be able to use a sense-enhancing drug dog to scan people and vehicles for evidence of drug crimes? Both infrared technology and dogs are methods that go beyond ordinary human powers to search for evidence of a possible crime in order to provide probable cause for a more intrusive search. Both are used to search for information that could not otherwise have been obtained without physical "intrusion into a constitutionally protected area.” Both “shrink the realm of guaranteed privacy.” That looks like an erosion of the rights guaranteed by the 4th Amendment. That’s “justice.”

Oregon culture, especially conservative Republican oriented culture, is infatuated with authoritarianism and punishment, especially punishment of the wayward poor. B.F, Skinner explained decades ago (see "About Behaviorism") that punishment results in many more dysfunctional behaviors than positive ones for the punished, and otherwise may not be effective, but we persist in the practice. In Oregon we currently spend $28,389.70 annually per inmate, not including debt service or the cost of new construction (ODOC personal communication). Would not the money be better spent on these young people before they get in trouble?

According to an April 22, 2007 article in the Oregonian, experts, like the “Vera Institute of Justice in New York said in a recent report: ‘Analysts are nearly unanimous in their conclusion that continued growth in incarceration will prevent considerably fewer, if any, crimes -- and at substantially greater cost to taxpayers.’
Such findings have spurred states such as Washington to study alternatives to building more prisons. In a report last year commissioned by the Legislature, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy concluded that expansion of proven treatment and prevention programs would reduce the need for new prison beds. Steve Aos, associate director of the institute, estimates such programs would save taxpayers as much as $2.6 billion in prison construction and operations between now and 2030

But arresting illegal drug users is big business. The prison industrial complex is one of the few booming sectors of the economy. Many leaders in small communities, like Baker City, see prisons as an economic boon, pumping money into the local economy with the “multiplier effect” and more housing sales for the realtor class. Following that logic, we need to expand the number of crimes and the length of prison sentences, which is what Kevin Mannix, the Republican candidate for Governor wants to do with his new ballot measure, Initiative 40 (noteworthy for not offering any minimum sentences for white-collar crimes), a follow-up to Measure 11 that apparently didn’t raise mandatory minimums enough. Never mind that the cost of all our new prisons is driving taxpayer costs through the roof. That doesn’t count the expanding probation and social service sector, which is tasked with tracking, judging, and supposedly improving the lives of these violators. If it was about helping people before they find trouble, they wouldn’t need to be spending so much money on them when they get in trouble later—but it is not—its about things like finding jobs for rural economies and the luckier than though, police, probation, and prison punishment bureaucracies. Isn’t it time we looked to a more humane and caring model—putting money, where it belongs, into financial support, early intervention and training for families? (Not to mention unlimited access to birth control.)

Garrison Keeler’s view in 2005:

a marijuana
 grower can land in prison for life without parole while
 a murderer might be in for eight years. No rational 
person can defend this; it is a Dostoevskian nightmare
 and it exists only because politicians fled in the face
of danger. That includes Bill Clinton, under whose 
administration the prosecution of Americans for 
marijuana went up hugely, so that now there are more
 folks in prison for marijuana than for violent crimes. 
More than for manslaughter or rape. This only makes 
sense in the fantasy world of Washington, where 
perception counts for more than reality. To an old 
Democrat, who takes a ground view of politics˜What is
 the actual effect of this action on the lives of real
 people?˜it is a foul tragedy that makes you feel guilty
 about enjoying your freedom. . . . .
People who 
chose marijuana, a more benign drug than alcohol, and
 got caught in the religious war that we Democrats in a 
weak moment signed onto. God help us if we form alliance
 with such bullies as would destroy a kid's life for
 raising cannabis plants

See Also: One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008

For the first time in history more than one in every 100 adults in America are in jail or prison—a fact that significantly impacts state budgets without delivering a clear return on public safety. According to a new report released today by the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project, at the start of 2008, 2,319,258 adults were held in American prisons or jails, or one in every 99.1 men and women, according to the study. During 2007, the prison population rose by more than 25,000 inmates. In addition to detailing state and regional prison growth rates, Pew’s report, One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008, identifies how corrections spending compares to other state investments, why it has increased, and what some states are doing to limit growth in both prison populations and costs while maintaining public safety. As prison populations expand, costs to states are on the rise. Last year alone, states spent more than $49 billion on corrections, up from $11 billion 20 years before. However, the national recidivism rate remains virtually unchanged, with about half of released inmates returning to jail or prison within three years. And while violent criminals and other serious offenders account for some of the growth, many inmates are low-level offenders or people who have violated the terms of their probation or parole. . . . . As a result, states’ corrections costs have risen substantially. Twenty years ago, the states collectively spent $10.6 billion of their general funds—their primary discretionary dollars—on corrections. Last year, they spent more than $44 billion in general funds, a 315 percent jump, and more than $49 billion in total funds from all sources. Coupled with tightening state budgets, the greater prison expenditures may force states to make tough choices about where to spend their money. For example, Pew found that over the same 20-year period, inflation-adjusted general fund spending on corrections rose 127 percent while higher education expenditures rose just 21 percent.”

And See: Burgeoning prison populations strain state budgets:

"The United States now holds the distinction of imprisoning more of its own citizens, both in total number and share of the adult population, than any other country in the world. In 2007, the United States had a record-breaking one out of every 100 adults in prison. Policy changes in sentencing and parole revocation, rather than increases in crime, have largely driven the increase in incarceration rates. 

States shoulder the vast majority of the costs associated with these policies. While states struggle with gaping budget shortfalls (see the recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities), incarceration rates and costs continue to escalate, consuming growing portions of state general funds. As corrections costs increase, states are forced to make cuts in other programs, such as transportation and education. In the past 20 years, total state spending on higher education has increased 21% (from $60.3 billion to $72.9 billion, in 2007 dollars), while corrections spending has more than doubled, increasing 127% (from $19.4 billion to $44.1 billion). Since 1997, however, the growth in corrections spending has outpaced higher education by only 18 percentage points, compared with the previous gap of 66 percentage points."
More at


FROM “Extension of The Tragedy of the Commons

“Individualism is cherished because it produces freedom, but the gift is conditional: The more the population exceeds the carrying capacity of the environment, the more freedoms must be given up. As cities grow, the freedom to park is restricted by the number of parking meters or fee-charging garages. Traffic is rigidly controlled. On the global scale, nations are abandoning not only the freedom of the seas, but the freedom of the atmosphere, which acts as a common sink for aerial garbage. Yet to come are many other restrictions as the world's population continues to grow.
The reality that underlies all the necessary curtailments is always the same--population growth. Yet the slightest attempt to limit this freedom is promptly denounced with cries of Elitism! Big-Brotherism! Despotism! Fascism! and the like. We are slow to mend our ways because ethicists and philosophers of the past generally did not see that numbers matter. In the language of 20th-century commentators, traditional thinking was magnificently verbal and deplorably non-numerate.”



“Why does an unregulated market economy produce extremes? For one thing, its most successful winners can abuse their power. The usual story is that the big winners ‘must have’ made enormous contributions to the economy and therefore have earned their rewards. But in reality, many big winnings are the result of insiders taking advantage of privileged positions to reap excessive gains. Today’s CEOs earn astronomical pay packages not because they suddenly became ten times more productive but because crony boards of directors enable them to cash in. Today’s investment bankers and hedge fund operators make so much money because the rules have been changed to encourage more purely financial engineering and manipulation of paper. Many other big winnings are the result of abuses of monopoly positions. The drug companies and their executives would not be cashing in so exorbitantly at public expense if their lobbyists and allies in Congress hadn’t rewritten the patent laws to discourage the use of cheaper generic drugs.
From “The Squandering of America: how the Failure of Our Politics Undermines Our Prosperity” by Robert Kuttner, Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2007


March 12, 2008, AlterNet 

"A free press is supposed to function as our democracy's immune system against... gross errors of fact and understanding," wrote Al Gore in his book, The Assault on Reason. But it doesn't - as Gore explains - and that is what makes the mass media one of the most important obstacles to social and economic progress in the 21st century.
How the media treats repeated falsehoods is a key issue. For example, when the New York Times reports on the allegation – spread by his enemies – that presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim, there is a sentence that follows immediately: "In fact, he is a Christian. . ."
The media didn't do this kind of "immune system" work when it reported on the run-up to the Iraq war. As a result, more than 70 percent of Americans were convinced that Saddam Hussein was involved in the massacre of September 11. More than 4,000 Americans and over one million Iraqis have been killed in the violence that perhaps could have been averted with better journalism.
A 2008 study by the Center for Public Integrity, "The War Card: Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War," documents 935 false statements by President Bush and seven top officials of his administration. The report notes that "much of the wall-to-wall media coverage provided additional, 'independent' validation of the Bush administration's false statements about Iraq."
Filmmaker Michael Moore told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "We're in the 5th year of this war because you, and CNN... didn't do your jobs back then and now here we are in this mess."
The mass media fails us on many issues other than war and peace. Most Americans under 50 think they are never going to see their Social Security benefits. In fact, the probability that they won't get their Social Security benefits is about the same as the chance that there won't be a U.S. government when they retire – pretty close to zero. The media could correct this widespread false belief by merely inserting a few undisputed facts about Social Security when reporting false statements from politicians and interest groups. For example: "Social Security is more financially sound than it has been throughout most of its 71-year history"; or "Social Security's projected shortfall over the next 75 years is less (as a percent of national income) than what was fixed in each of the following decades: 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s


While it is too early to assess the effectiveness of the Fed's latest bailout efforts, the basic intent should be clear. It allows banks in financial trouble more time to try to find less informed investors who will buy their devalued assets. This benefits the banks' managers and stockholders; it is less clear how it benefits the economy as a whole.”
From “Ratio of Home Equity to Value Plunges to Record Low

I might add, that the lowered interest rates that the Fed has given banks, etc., have not been passed on to buyers or mortgage holders. Easy to see where this helps banks, hard to figure how it helps the average buyer or innocent bystander. -Chris

"it all depends on whether rates go down and whether that will rev-up the moribund housing market again. Of course, that is predicated on the false assumption that consumers are too stupid to know that housing is in its biggest decline since the Great Depression. This is just another slight miscalculation by the blinkered Fed. Housing will not be resuscitated anytime in the near future, no matter what the conditions; and you can bet on that. The last time Bernanke cut interest rates by 75 basis points mortgage rates on the 30-year fixed actually went up a full percentage point. This had a negative affect on refinancing as well as new home purchases. The cuts were a total bust in terms of home sales."

A Vicious Circle Ending In A Systemic Financial Meltdown
By Mike Whitney


The world’s largest prison—Gaza prison with 1.5 million inmates, many of them starving, sick and penniless—is receiving more sympathy and protest by Israeli citizens, of widely impressive backgrounds, than is reported in the U.S. press.
In contrast, the humanitarian crisis brought about by Israeli government blockades that prevent food, medicine, fuel and other necessities from coming into this tiny enclave through international relief organizations is received with predictable silence or callousness by members of Congress, including John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The contrast invites more public attention and discussion.
Israel has militarily occupied Gaza for forty years. It pulled out its colonials in 2005 but maintained an iron grip on the area controlling all access, including its airspace and territorial waters. Its F-16s and helicopter gunships regularly shred more and more of the areas—public works, its neighborhoods and inflict collective punishment on civilians in violation of Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. As the International Red Cross declares, citing treaties establishing international humanitarian law, “Neither the civilian population as a whole nor individual civilians may be attacked.”
According to The Nation magazine, the great Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, reports that the primitive rockets from Gaza, have taken thirteen Israeli lives in the past four years, while Israeli forces have killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in the occupied territories in the past two years alone. Almost half of them were civilians, including some 200 children.
The Israeli government is barring most of the trucks from entering Gaza to feed the nearly one million Palestinians depending on international relief, from groups such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The loss of life from crumbling health care facilities, disastrous electricity cutoffs, gross malnutrition and contaminated drinking water from broken public water systems does not get totaled. These are the children and their civilian adult relatives who expire in a silent violence of suffering that 98 percent of Congress avoids mentioning while extending billions of taxpayer dollars to Israel annually. UNRWA says “we are seeing evidence of the stunting of children, their growth is slowing.” Cancer patients are deprived of their chemotherapy, kidney patients are cut off from dialysis treatments and premature babies cannot receive blood-clotting medications.
The misery, mortality and morbidity worsens day by day

Rest of article:
The War and the Recession
by Dean Baker

With the release of the February jobs numbers, everyone except for the economists now acknowledges we are in a recession. The economy is shedding jobs at a rapid pace and it is only a matter of time until we see the unemployment rate rising. In addition to greater difficulty finding jobs, workers can look forward to falling wages and reduced access to health care insurance and pension coverage.
Naturally, people are looking for an explanation for the cause of the recession, and many have turned to the Iraq War. This view is wrong. The war is a drain on the economy, but it is not the cause of the recession. The recession is due to the collapse of the $8 trillion ($110,000 per homeowner) housing bubble.
It is understandable people would look to the war as the villain in this story. After all, the war is costing around $180 billion a year (at 1.2 percent of GDP). This is a substantial drain on the federal budget and the economy. This money could have gone to productive uses that would have benefited people and made the economy stronger.
For example, the proposed expansion of the state children’s health insurance program (SCHIP) would have cost $7 billion a year, an amount equal to what we spend on the war in two weeks. A proposed $2 billion a year increase in childcare subsidies is equal to four days of spending on the war. The hundreds of millions of dollars each year the federal government devotes to energy conservation amounts to less than a day’s spending on the war.
In short, there is a nearly endless list of areas that can be identified in which the money spent on the war could have been spent in ways that would have made the economy stronger. Since the money was diverted from better uses, the war spending has hurt the economy.
There is another way in which war spending hurts the economy: We have to pay for the war. We could have paid for the war with tax increases, but instead, President Bush chose to pay for it by borrowing, making the deficit considerably larger than it would otherwise be. This additional borrowing makes interest rates somewhat higher than they would be otherwise. Higher interest rates can raise the value of the dollar, which makes the trade deficit larger. (A high dollar makes US-made goods relatively more expensive both here and abroad.) Higher interest rates can also reduce investment and homebuilding.
However, the increase in borrowing associated with the war is actually not very large relative to the size of the economy. It can be expected to have a negative effect, but it is relatively modest and only begins to be felt over time. Last year, the Center for Economic and Policy Research commissioned Global Insight, one of the country’s leading economic forecasting firms, to project the impact of the war on the economy.
Their model projected the impact would be initially positive (war spending generates demand), but eventually the effect of higher interest rates imposes a drag on growth. By the sixth year, the effect is negative; and by the tenth year, the economy was projected to have lost about half a million jobs, mostly in manufacturing and construction.
This is bad news, but it is not the recession that we are seeing now. This recession has a different group of villains. First and foremost on this list is Alan Greenspan, who at least ignored the housing bubble, if he didn’t actively promote it. The list also includes regulators at both the state and federal level who tolerated abuses in the mortgage industry that were completely visible at the time they took place. And there is a long list of politicians and community leaders who encouraged low- and moderate-income families to buy homes in the middle of a housing bubble. And, of course, there are the incompetent economic forecasters (is that redundant?), who could not see an $8 trillion housing bubble in front of their face.
These are the people who deserve the blame for what is likely to be the most severe recession in the post-war period. The public’s wrath should be focused on the Fed, the regulators, the Wall Street crooks, and the others responsible for letting a housing bubble wreck havoc on the economy

IRAN: 'Fox' Fallon Fired--And we're f*cked...

By Justin Raimondo

"Do I really need to draw you a picture to get you to imagine what's coming next? This is as clear a signal as any that the Bush administration intends to go out with a bang - one that will shake not only the Middle East but this country to its very foundations."

John Pilger Video Documentary

"The film tells a universal story," says Pilger, "analysing and revealing, through vivid testimony, the story of great power behind its venerable myths. It allows us to understand the true nature of the so-called war on terror".


Most people don’t even know my blog exists. Many are happy about that. Three rather prominent Baker City citizens have told me not to communicate with them after labeling my views and my sometimes rather direct behavior disgusting. The pattern for some old-timers here is to disagree with and insult someone (like me, in response to my pointing out some facts or putting forth a strongly worded opinion) and then immediately cut off any dialogue with me. It’s the sort of behavior reminiscent of intellectual cowards. Such cowardice is like a destructive socially transmitted disease that is not easily cured, being supported as it is by their narrowness of vision and defensive self-interest.

I don’t even have time to work on my blog, as I am spending all my spare time on an environmental issue that I’m not really at liberty to write much about. Given my current situation, the blog is reduced to hurried comments on a few issues that fly by as our depressing history proceeds. So it is tonight, but I persist.

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