Answering Taylor’s Question

Taylor, longtime friend and blog reader, recently wrote this comment:

“I hate it when you do this. Not trying to be antagonistic, but that is hard to do when you make such fallacious statements throughout your blog. But here goes:
So what is the solution? I see a pattern in your blogs that criticize ‘x’: identify problem -> identify Republicans as instigator of problem -> offer no solution.
I read 1 stated complaint and 1 implicate:
Stated: private business profiting from high incarceration rates is bad
Implicit: ‘making stuff illegal and locking people up’ is a bad policy
I agree that if incarceration rates were not high there would be no reason for the market to respond with providing services. But to suggest that private prisons are killing off their inmates and the government is turning a blind eye is a bit far-fetched isn’t it? I mean, personally, I could care less. They are prisoners, and in my opinion, we should devise a zero-sum expense model to deal with them instead of pouring tax dollars into such a system. But, the liberals in the country will cry foul, so, oh, well.
As for the policy, let’s list who is incarcerated ( in no order ):
– murderers
– thieves
– rapists
– drug dealers
– Martha Stewart
Which of these categories of criminals do you suggest we set free? I assume you are not going to come forward with some radical policy like hang ’em all, and, I assume the Libertarian in you will say, ‘just set all those drug-dealing gang-bangers free.’
If that is your solution, put it forward for discussion.”

I hate to make an example of my friend, but he is bolstering my case by writing that: “personally, I could care less. They are prisoners”.

This is the attitude that typifies Republicans.

This speaks to Taylor’s experience. Presumably, he has never had any serious problems with the police, and so anyone who does must be a bad person. The notion that we are locking anyone up unnecessarily is viewed as preposterous, as is the notion that the prison system is anything but just.

I’ve heard many a Republican say that we are simply too soft on our prisoners. Prisons need to be harder. The time spent, tougher. As one-time Republican candidate for Texas governor, Clayton Williams said during his campaign, “We need to introduce our prisoners to the joys of busting rocks.” It’s an attitude I can understand. Republicans feel part of the system, so the system must work for them. Surely, any allegations otherwise must be “far-fetched.” Government would never stoop to the level of locking up people unnecessarily. That’s just crazy talk.

Unfortunately, this attitude is very naive.

I remember reading a story in the Wall Street Journal about the history of an Alabama mining town that used prison labor in the mines. Mining was a dangerous profession, so many prisoners would die. When the prison population got too low, the local sheriff would go out and arrest people so that the mine would have more workers. (Far from being far-fetched, Taylor, this kind of stuff is hardly uncommon.)

And, let’s take it from the local level of an Alabama town to the national one.

When the United States was fighting in Vietnam, Republicans seemed to have few qualms about the fact that drug offenders (who were mostly black) were being forced to fight — and die — for a war they did not believe in, merely to avoid jail time.

I find this kind of hypocrisy grossly unsettling.

I don’t see the material difference between the Americans who let drug offenders fight their war against Communism for them in the rice patties of Vietnam, and the Germans who let the Nazis falsely imprison the Jewish population so that their wealth could be confiscated and the state would have plenty of labor to fight their own war. Both are examples of a citizenry on the “right side of the law” allowing themselves to be willfully ignorant of the system’s darker side. I find it even more ironic that these “law and order” types are the very same people who want to make politics more religious and talk about Jesus’ love for everyone.

From my experience, religious faith challenges its believers to sympathize with the experiences of the downtrodden. In the Bible, does Jesus not ask his followers why they did not visit him in prison, and then go on to say that, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” I understand the hypocrisy that is to call for a more holy nation while, at the same time, call for harsher prisons. I understand it, but I don’t have to like it. And so, I apologize to Taylor for using the pages of my blog as a pulpit to wage war against the hypocrisy of our nation, but that hypocrisy is the true root of our decline into a decadent empire.

If we would spend time with those who have a different experience of things, we can learn from them. If Taylor and the other Republicans calling for “law and order” understood the experience of inner-city blacks who many times feel that the police are part of the “They” that is out to get them, they might come to this discussion a bit differently.

If they had ever had a family member incarcerated for a victimless crime such as drug possession, and seen the hardships that the family had had to endure, they might come to this differently.

If they had known anyone who got drafted, or took prison deferment and died fighting a war they didn’t believe in, they might come to this differently.

Now, to come back off my soapbox, and answer Taylor’s question.

Our growing prison population is a symptom of our hopeless “War on Drugs”. Although I think it was obvious from my original post, if we would end our prosecution of victimless crimes such as drug offenses and prostitution, we would dramatically reduce the prison population, and with it, our need for prisons. And if we would but understand, as Jesus asks us to in the book of Matthew, that prisoners are still people and that they are worthy of our fair treatment and to still be considered people with rights, then I doubt we would allow these conditions to exist to begin with.

The Republican lies of “law and order” are merely an appeal for the state to gain more control over its citizenry.

Similarly, it was just a few short years ago, that the Republicans under the Bush Administration told us that the CIA and military intelligence needed to be allowed to torture people so that we could win the “War on Terror.” What I find so galling, is that Republicans like Taylor seem to swallow these arguments hook, line and sinker — and then turn around and tell me how much we need to get government out of our lives. I sincerely doubt they they have viewed movies, such as “Rendition, that highlight the abuses of such programs.

If they did, I sincerely doubt they would be comfortable with handing these powers over to the government under any circumstances.

The Republicans Find Religion

A lot of my friends get all bent out of shape when it comes time to elect the President. They act as though it were a matter of life or death to make sure that the next President is the one they happen to be supporting. And, of course, they are correct. The President will have to make many life or death decisions. Still, I can’t seem to get all worked up about who gets elected. In part that’s because I’m a Libertarian. Being a Libertarian means that regardless of who designs the ballots in Florida, or whether we have gone from punch card to electronic voting, my candidate is not going to win. Ever. 

In many ways that’s a relief. I have made peace with the notion that I will never be on the winning side of a Presidential election, and so I experience neither joys nor sorrows come election night. More typically I just get a few chuckles. For the vast majority of voting Americans, however, elections do not seem to bring any peace. Politicians have been studying how to get elected so long that it would seem that they have discovered that the voters seldom if ever hold them accountable to the political promises they made when they were last running for election. And so politics operates like a strange kind of job where you have to continually reapply for the same job you already hold, but no one actually pays much attention to what you say during the interview; if you just promise to be a star performer you’ll keep getting the job because no one really seems to care whether you ever even show up once you have actually gotten the job.

I am reminded of the old Peanuts gag where Lucy holds the ball out for Charlie and pulls it away when he goes to kick it. Lucy has done this to Charlie countless times, but still somehow manages to convince Charlie that this time she really means it. But she always pulls the ball away and then ridicules Charlie with “You Blockhead.” 

That’s how I see the US political system. Every two to six years, the major political parties hold out footballs for the American people to try to kick. The American public has been here before. It knows that every time it goes to kick the ball and elect someone, that the person they elect will unfailingly pull the ball away and not live up to the promises made. I think it’d be a refreshing change if political victory speeches were reduced to the victorious candidate coming before the public and saying, “You Blockhead.”

That’s what makes this current crisis so interesting. There is actually a very short span of time between the actions taken now and the next election, which puts politicians in the very unusual situation of having their recent performance considered by people going to the polls. And this is perhaps why the House Republicans recently took the very unusual action of defying their Republican President’s wishes and voting down his bill. Republicans have traditionally kept a very disciplined core of elected officials. You never see a high profile Republican going to speak at the Democratic National Convention, for instance. And, yet, they may as well have as they gave not only George Bush but John McCain his walking papers and voted down the bill they both vocally supported. Even weirder, Bill O’Reilly recently attacked right-wing “Kool-Aid drinking idiots” in calling for this bailout and attempting to blame Clinton when, according to O’Reilly, it was clearly “Bush’s fault.”

Sacre Bleu! What in the world has gotten into them? Are these the same people who reauthorized the Patriot Act to keep us all safe from terrorism? Or told us how necessary it was that the President conduct illegal wire-tapping surveillance? I mean how is it possible that the Republicans gave Bush Carte Blanche to carry out whatever policies he asks for but suddenly shoot him down on a bailout of Wall Street?

If I didn’t know better, I’d say they suddenly “found religion” and started comparing their actions against the rhetoric. Suddenly the free market, an intangible entity that doesn’t vote and no one really seems to want anyway went from stale talking point to more important than party loyalty.  How on Earth did that happen?Well, I hope the Republicans stop messing with my head, because I’m not used to them actually honoring their free market rhetoric. When there is an unflinching faith in the power of people to decide value in the marketplace, can you then long ignore that the marketplace can’t really function well without an honest money such as gold to go along with it? Am I to hear House Republicans tomorrow call for the abolishment of the Federal Reserve? If they keep it up I’d have to start actually questioning whether I should become a Republican myself!

But then, lest I forget, this is simply politics right before an election. I suspect the Republicans’ sudden “come to Jesus” moment may have more to do with the November elections than with a sudden discovered passion for free market forces. Time will tell, I suppose, but I’m not one to say that that many leopards can change their spots that darn quickly. Still, it was good while it lasted.