Tuesday, March 11, 2008

NY Governor Eliot Spitzer and a Prostitution ring....

I have never liked Eliot Spitzer. The Governor of New York was too much of a crusader, the kind who dribbles saliva from the mouth as he's torturing Evil Opponents. And for Spitzer, going after anyone who traded Securities or had a large bank account was his passion. He was dubbed "Mr. Clean" for being the Knight in Shining Armor. But no one knew the Knight was riding around bareback with the courtesans of the land.

His is, ironically, a common story.

- Governor Spitzer, "Mr. Clean," found paying a prostitute over $4,000 for a four hour session.

- Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and anti-homosexual crusader, found paying for gay sex for over three years.

- Paul Crouch, founder of the world's largest Christian broadcasting outlet, the Trinity Broadcasting Network which also espouses a Gay-is-Evil message, currently locked in a tiff with the Reality Show "Lie Detector," as a former employee, Enoch Ford, submitted to a polygraph regarding a supposed gay sexual relationship witn Crouch...and revealing a $425,000 payment made to him after he was fired from the Network.

- Roger Clemmons, baseball hero, dogged and hounded by congressmen determined to know if he used steroids of HGH during his spectacular career.

- Cicero (Chicago area) Police Commander Wesley Scott, a 21-year veteran of the force who sent up many a young man for illegal drug possession, is himself charged with burning a marijuana joint (and a whole bag of the weed) after being stopped by another officer. (The department was kind enough to let him take four personal days before adminstering a drug test, to give him time to clean out his system. The Blue Code lives...)

There are *so many* issues to look at here:

1) WHY are we so obsessed with creating heroes that are unrealistic? "Heroes" are NOT perfect. They are human and fallible. Give me a movie hero who is uncertain, imperfect, and flawed, and you've got a real hero. Give me some self-righteous, pontificating know-it-all, and I want to throw up. Dubbing Spitzer, "Mr. Clean" was an impossible standard to throw at him.

2) WHY are those who are so damned strident in their crusades so often hiding the very vices they appear to want to eradicate? Do they believe that if they ruthlessely pursue all the 'other' bad guys, that they will not have to admit to themselves that, they, too, engage in the same activities?

Find me a man who is strident in his hatred of gays, and who knows every Bible verse condemning them, and is obsessed with preaching it, and I will show you a drowning man who is desperate to avoid the truth of his own orientation.

3) WHY do we revel in disaster? Why do we *love* it when the media build someone up to a point of being worshipped, and then enjoy the gossip, innuendo and tales that accompany their eventual destruction?

Thiry years ago, folk singer Phil Ochs wrote these words in his song, "Crucifixion:"

"And you say you can't believe it,
It's a sacriligious shame,
Now who would want to hurt
such a hero of the game?
But you know, I predicted it,
I knew he had to fall.
How did it Happen?
I hope is suffering was small.
Tell me every detail,
'Cuz I've got to know it all,
And do you have a picture of the pain?"

4) But most of all, maybe we should be looking *not* at the hypocrisy of these guys, or the Build-them-up, Tear-Them-Down sport of the media....but at our own expectations and requirements.

This country has been affected by a knee-jerk Puritanical streak since our inception. We put people in stocks and made them wear scarlet "A's," not because they hurt anyone, but because we didnt like their personal choices and to expose them to public ridicule.

Spitzer didn't steal anyone's money or property. He didnt assault, maim, or hurt anyone. Outside of his family relationships (which is his own private matter), who has been hurt by his dalliance with a prostitute?

No One.

Should Spitzer resign? No.
Should Clemmons lose his place in history? No.
Should Officer Scott go to jail for smoking pot? No.

Instead of pointing at their hypocrisy, maybe we should point at our own: We are a nation where a majority of a generation has smoked pot, and yet we put people behind bars for smoking pot. We are a nation where the majority has had multiple sexual partners, yet we consider it a 'disgrace' when it is brought to light.

Time to cast off our Puritanical ball and chain. Legalize recreational drug use, legalize prostitution, legalize all activities that hurt no one.

And then decide that its none of our business anyway who someone sleeps with or what drugs they take, and move on to more serious issues.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Re-thinking jails, prisons, and crime....

News Items:

"...More than one in every 100 American adults are in jail or prison, according to a recent study by the Pew Center for the States, which also found that about half of released inmates return to jail or prison within three years..."

"...The U.S. prison population, the world's largest, has grown nearly eightfold over the past 35 years and now costs taxpayers at least $60 billion a year..."

"A stunning one in nine black males between the ages of 20-34 is behind bars... Prison culture has become a norm in some urban neighborhoods, with more than 600,000 people a year returning home from prison and jails. They come back poorly educated, lacking job skills, and socially and legally disabled by felony records. One in 14 African-American children has a parent who is incarcerated..."

What should we conclude from these news reports? That Americans are law-breakers? That society has fallen apart and everyone is a thief and a murderer? We've gone to hell in a handbasket? How is it that there are more people living behind bars in America than in bigger authoritarian regimes like China?

Perhaps it has less to do with the activities of our citizens than with a societal inclination to 'throw away the key.' In other words, its not "them," it's "we" who are the problem.

From the earliest colonial days, we have had a penchant for making an example of others and punishing them for life choices. From sitting in the stocks for playing games on Sunday to wearing a scarlet letter for committing adultery, there has always been an undercurrent in American society (often based in religous belief) that

(1) 'Punishment' is the appropriate response to "bad actions;" and
(2) Morally "bad" choices are bad actions that must should be punished.

The circus surrounding the steroids-in-sports hearings is a prime example. There are no 'victims' if any of these guys used steroids, but many feel that such a 'moral outrage' must be investigated, dissected, and broadcast, and the users 'brought to justice.'

In the last decade, 6.5 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges alone. In 2006, 738,915 Americans alone were arrested for simple marajuana possession (constituting 81% of drug arrests), not some major hard-core mob operation. Even the Justice Department has determined that people sentenced for drug crimes accounted for 21% of state prisoners and 55% of all federal prisoners.

As states grapple with ever-expanding prison needs (and budgets), surely it is time to look at WHO is being incarcerated, WHY they are being incarcerated, and the RESULTS of that incarceration.

Have we created a situation where the costs of imprisonment outweigh the benefits?

And even worse, are the dangers to individuals an society from rampant imprisonment worse than the dangers from the "crime" committed?!

The criminal justice system is broken NOT because its 'too easy,' on criminals, but because

(1) It doesnt compensate real victims;
(2) it destroys the life of the defendent and his/her family;
(3) it jails those who have not hurt anyone simply because we want to impose morality on them (drugs, prostitution);
(4) it teaches amateur thieves how to be professional criminals,
(5) It burdens taxpayers with an enormous tax bill for prison construction and operation
(6) it has created a vested interest group (prison workers, and private and government-run prisons with vested interests in maintaining and expanding the system);
(6) It dumps men and women out on the street after their jail terms with NO skills, NO money, and a criminal record, virtually guarenteeing their inability to re-integrate into society.

A better system?

(1) No victimless crimes. It is time to end imprisonment for drug use and related crimes. A New Hampshire House subcommittee just voted 13-1 to recommend decriminalizing marajuana. If it passes, New Hampshire would become the 13th state in a growing movement to take this step. Interestingly, Rep. John Tholl (R-Whitefield), the police chief of Dalton, chaired the subcommittee and voted in favor.

(2) Where there is a clear victim, resurrect the old notion of BondService where appropriate (OK, "community Service" and "Working off your crime" sounds better. But its the same thing). The BondService "company" (this could be a private or a public entity) would pay the victim restitution up front; in return, it would assume 'ownership' of the criminals labor, and assume responsibility for his/her living conditions (a 'company' apartment, for which rent is charged, or house arrest are both options). This avoids taxpayer housing and prison construction expense. The 'company" would then train the convict in a skill, put him to work, and in the end release him with a skill and start up money. Since the victim is automatically compenstated in such a system, it may reduce the number of civil suits attempting to collect the same, this reducing backlogs in courts.

Sound pollyana?

Not if you've seen the Maine State Prison System's furniture outlet store in Thomaston, where inmates are trained in woodworking and other craftwork and earn money towards their keep while establishing a savings account for their own use upon release.

Not if यू've seen Norways system, which routinely combines home arrest and work-release training programs.

In other words, elements of this system are already in place and working. But we continue to lock up people that we think are 'bad'...and forget about them and the consequences.

Every prisoner is someone's son or daughter. And often someone's mom or dad. They are people, not refuse. The goal should be to safeguard society - and no one is 'safeguarded' by locking up a young man's father for 10 years for an offense that hurt no one. The 'remedy' now creates more probems than the crime, as we create a fatherless generation of children and an embittered generation of middle-aged 'criminals.'