03 February 2014

The Day After And Other Rants

In any hard fought sports competition, even at the highest level, someone wins and someone losses, even if there are no non-forced errors.  Alas, the Superbowl wasn't like that.  The Broncos utterly impolded.  Some of their errors, like the safety that resulted when the center wildly overthrew the quarterback on the very first play after the kickoff, were amateur hour screw ups that were entirely our fault.  Others, like consistent failure to secure the twenty yard on kickoff returns that a mere fair catch could have secured, or our challenge of a pretty clearly correctly called play, or our failure to have someone in position to prevent the Seahawks from scoring a touchdown on a kickoff return, were cases of bad judgment.  When it comes to the multiple turnovers - there isn't much to say except that our offense was totally outclassed by their defense on that given day.

You'd think that after an incredible season during which Peyton Manning dazzled the fans with the best offense in the NFL that produced a 13-3 record in the regular season, plus several undefeated playoff games and broke numerous long time offensive records, we would have fared better.  The point spread had us favored by two.  But, if you want a powerful example that factors like momentum and moral matter, at least in football, this was it.  This was a game lost not just by one mistake, but by one after another after another.  At the end of the first quarter, it seemed like it might be possible for us to rally and overcome as we had several times before, but by the conclusion of the first few seconds of the second half, the parade of errors had grown insurmountable and we were clearly and irrevocably off our game.  Sports bar patrons started going home early and we all slunk our heads.

Overall, it was a good season.  The last time we were in the Superbowl was before my children were born.  But, yemaleagun*, what a horrible finish!

* A mild Swedish expletive (spelled phonetically and probably incorrectly) frequently uttered by my mother and my maternal grandparents in my youth, whose direct translation is not known to me, but is used in circumstances where an English speaker might say "damn!"

* * *

There are professions that are not illegal, but which I have a hard time imagining someone who doesn't have a serious morality deficit entering into with a genuine knowledge of what they involve.  Two of those are immigration enforcement officer and drug enforcement agent.

Granted, there are rare cases where immigration officers use immigration laws for somewhat morally justifiable purposes, like deporting short time immigrant felons, or rescuing involuntary immigrants who are the victims of human trafficking rings.  But, the vast majority of the time, they simply destroy the lives of people who are guilty of nothing more than seeking better futures for themselves and their families and who aren't hurting anyone.  How can someone who isn't sadistic, or at least lacks any sense of empathy, enjoy that kind of work?

The legal ethics of lawyers specifically forbid us from threatening to report people to immigration authorities to gain an advantage in a civil case.  Doctor-patient privilege typically forbids them from reporting their patients, although the issue of getting paid for the work rendered to these patients complicates the matter.  Schools too, frequently operate in a don't ask, don't tell world - a sensible policy given that many children of undocumented immigrants are themselves U.S. citizens by birthright, and that we do not need a new generation made up of illiterate youngsters unable to function viably in the modern world.

The people on the receiving end of their actions frequently have little or no capacity to access the minimal due process to which they are entitled, and mostly, the law itself is an ass, tearing apart families, preventing hardworking capable people from seeking a better life, not infrequently deporting people who genuinely face persecution, and creating a grey market for the services of undocumented immigrants where they are exploited undermining legal workers as well, and imposing conditions of detention that are dubious in the process.  Since immigration is viewed as a status, rather than an act of unlawful entry that can have a statute of limitations, someone who has lived peaceably in the U.S. for decades, even as far back as they can remember, must still live at risk of deportation and live in the shadows every day.

Similarly, while there are cases where some mild criminal sanction can force a drug addict to turn himself or herself around, or while drug dealing can provide resources to criminal gangs that resort to violence mostly because of the fact of drug prohibition itself, all too often, the criminal justice remedy is worth than the problem itself.  Hundreds of thousands of lives have been thrown away with senselessly long sentences for minor drug violations.  Often they are guilty, but the length of the sentences are a monumental silent tragedy.

The nature of the crime, in which mere possession amount to guilt, has undermined the physical personal integrity of all of us at the hands of law enforcement.   Drug mules playing minor roles in the drug trade for ill chosen loved ones often end up serving decades or their entire lives in prison sentences that cost the public immense sums, while their higher ups serve shorter sentences bargained with the information they can provide about co-conspirators.  Absurd headlines like "Drug Warriors Kidnap and Sexually Assault a Women After Getting Permission From a Dog" have all too often become our reality instead of a bad joke.

Decent moral middle class people don't report violations of drug laws, unless the offender has also done something more morally blameworthy, like killing or ordering the killing of people in connection with that trade or destroying the liveability of their neighborhoods, because they have leaned the lessons of the decades old drug wars that involving law enforcement ruins lives and leaves no one better off.

The same phenomena is evidence in the absurdly lengthy sentences meted out to people (almost entirely socially awkward, but harmless old men) who watch and share child porn on the Internet for free.  Tasteless, yes.  Appropriate to make illegal to discourage its production, granted.  But, something that is appropriate to punish for hard time in prison?  Not except in the rare cases of the people who actually produce it, or at least make a livelihood out of distributing it.

In a world were sentencing was proportional to the seriousness of the crime, these men would not be put in prison for five years to many decades.  The ordinary case of someone who just watches it should be a low grade misdemeanor.  The case of someone who distributes it gratuitously, a serious misdemeanor.  The case of someone who makes significant profits from distributing it, a minor felony of a few years at most for all but the most extremely profitable distribution operators.  But, only actually playing a role in creating it, who are engaged in a particularly blameworthy case of rape ought to be punishable by felonies carrying hard time criminal felonies.  But, too often, watching and collecting and perhaps distributing child porn without any involvement in its creation and no element of personal economic gain garners sentences as long or longer than the perpetrator would have received had he personally raped a child.  Studies claiming that men who watch child porn are usually at high risk to be child rapists turn out to be total bunk.  Yes, child rapists tend to watch child porn as well.  But, the converse is not true.  The vast majority of those who watch wouldn't dream of doing it in real life, just as the vast majority of adults who watch legal orgy and adult rape porn don't actually engage in either kind of conduct.

In general, vice is a purely economic crime.  Someone has made money by breaking the rules.  And, in general, punishments for these economic crimes should be proportionate to the economic gain secured by the perpetrator.  Ordinarily, the punishment shouldn't be any more severe for even someone making tens of thousands of dollars a year as an illegal drug dealer, than simple larceny involving stolen property of comparable value.

Colorado has taken a lead along with a number of other states, in rolling back excessive sentences for most drug crimes, and legalizing a limited recreational and medicinal marijuana trade (apart from federal laws that the federal government lacks the resources and the desire to enforce).

It doesn't escape my notice that many of the worst abuses of government power affecting large numbers of people take place at the federal government level.  Federal drug and child pornography sentences are routinely much more severe than those at the state level in most states.

Immigration enforcement is a purely federal enterprise although many "Red states" would like to jump into the breach of immigration enforcement when federal enforcement is less harsh than local xenophobic conservatives and independents would like.  The Democratic party and even unions are largely united in favoring significant reforms liberalizing immigration laws.  Republicans are split between cheap labor conservatives who favor relaxed immigration laws because of their ties to businesses that benefit from it or out of an ideological commitment to free markets that logically extends to labor markets, and xenophobic, socially conservative Republicans and Republican leaning conservatives who fear that their culture is threatened by immigration of people who don't share that culture and who believe that immigration has undermined the economic well being of blue collar men.

Anyone who has seriously studied the facts would be hard pressed to disagree with the widespread consensus of economists and criminal justice experts that undocumented immigrants contribute more in indirect taxes (like property taxes on rental property and sales and excise taxes) than they consume in public services, and that undocumented immigrants are much less likely to burden the criminal justice system than comparable native born individuals or even the average native born person.  While there is a strong correlation between the percentage of the population in a place that is native born black and serious crime rates (which is not to say that these correlations may be mere indicators of severe poverty and other neutral factors), the correlation between Hispanic or foreign born or undocumented immigrant population percentages and serious crime rates is negligible or non-existence or negative (i.e. more of these populations is associated with less crime).

Econometric studies that have looked at the correlation between undocumented Latin American immigration and the wages and working conditions of blue collar men have seen effects that are very faint.  And, there are reasons why this may be plausible.  Off shoring of manufacturing and other less skilled jobs (like telephone customer service), automation of less skilled jobs, increased access of women to jobs formerly held only by men, and the increasing levels of skill required for the jobs in manufacturing, construction and farming, for example, the remain jobs in sectors that used to employ blue collar men in large numbers have also played important roles in undermining their economic circumstances separate and apart from any role by less skilled immigrants often from Latin America.  But, looking at how the faces of workers in industries like construction and auto repair (and the way that these industries employment practices in these industries) have changed since the 1970s when the economic condition of the native born blue collar man started to stagnate, it hard not to be skeptical of economic studies that low ball the impact of this immigration on their economic circumstances.

Then again, it is also hard not to fault the relative quality as workers of native born men seeking to fill these jobs relative to immigrant competitors in the marketplace.  A large share of the most qualified men in these blue collar professions have secured further education and moved into the white collar workplace, or done well for themselves by employing immigrants in their own small businesses.  As more and more men get college educations, the quality as workers of the remaining men who do not has declined.  Pay for some of these positions has stagnated relative to what it would have had there not been as much immigration, but the construction and repair jobs being filled in droves by Latin American immigrants are hardly minimum wage burger flipping jobs either.  These are jobs that the people who fill them managed to support larger than average American families upon, while living in reasonable working class comfort (one student of socio-economic class called these individuals "high proles") and sending money back to family abroad as well, often without the benefit of unions or labor law protections.

For better or worse, these workers are building the America we know and love and making it the global economic powerhouse that it remains despite the fact that its economic growth has lagged behind that of many of its global peers with merely developing rather than developed economies.  Should we do right by them, given how much they have in fact contributed to our economy, or should be rebuke them and send them packing.  Morally, those in the latter camp are in the wrong.

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