New appeal leads to reinstatement of Texas’s restrictive abortion law

October 9, 2021 • 10:15 am

Most of you know about Texas’s restrictive new abortion law, which bans all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected—about six weeks into pregnancy. Past that point, abortions are not allowed even in cases of rape or incest.

To add insult to injury (seriously: you have to carry a rapist’s or relative’s baby to term?), the Texas legislature allowed regular citizens to enforce the law, making it harder to declare it unconstitutional (even though it is). Everyone is “deputized” to enforce the law, allowing citizens to sue anybody who aids in an “illegal abortion” (including the Uber driver taking the woman to a clinic) for $10,000.  Finally, the provision makes the law retroactive even if it is blocked, so if it’s “paused,” as it was for a few days this week, legal abortions conducted during that pause can be considered illegal after the law kicks in again, and the providers sued. It’s nefarious, and designed to make it hard to legally block the law.

Nevertheless, after a request from Biden’s Justice Department, the law was blocked on Wednesday by federal judge Robert Pitman, who didn’t pull any punches in his 113-page decision.

“From the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their own lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution,” he wrote in his opinion.

“This court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right,” he added.

Well, the exercise of that right lasted just two days. A three judge panel in the conservative Fifth Circuit of Texas ruled that Texas’s law would take effect again, although temporarily. Previously illegal abortions started up again (even though clinics could be sued later), but most clinics suspended activity. The panel gave the Justice Department until 5 p.m. Tuesday to respond to Texas’s appeal, but the unanimity and terseness of the ruling suggests that the Firth Circuit will permanently reinstate the law some time after Tuesday. You can see the two-page ruling here, but here’s the gist:

As you know, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene before the law went into effect, a decision that baffles me because, according to present law, Texas’s law was palpably unconstitutional. That may changes as they move toward overturning Roe v. Wade, which I once thought unlikely but now think probable. So, as of now, the women of Texas are forced to obey an unconstitutional law, seeking abortions in other states if they’re past the sixth week of pregnancy.

A quote from the NYT piece:

“The Supreme Court needs to step in and stop this madness,” Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “It’s unconscionable that the Fifth Circuit stayed such a well-reasoned decision that allowed constitutionally protected services to return in Texas.”

But the Supremes have already refused to step in, and, in an upcoming Mississippi case about a similar law, may step in in a way we don’t like.

The transgender/prison dilemma

August 12, 2021 • 9:15 am

I find that writing about transgender issues is difficult, for I want to both adhere to liberal tenets that respect people’s identities ensure moral and legal equality as far as possible, yet also ensure a kind of fairness that comes from realizing that while, for gender labels, a “transwoman is a woman and a transman is a man”, there are a couple of exceptions because transitioning involves modifying one’s biological (natal) sex. My solution has been pointing out a few areas in which inequality of treatment of trans- verus cis-people is useful in the interests of fairness (some sports participation, prison occupancy, rape counseling, halfway houses, and the like), but to hew to equality in all other areas (pronoun use, bathroom occupancy, etc.)  But even carving out a few exceptions gets one called a “transphobe”. Well, I can live with the opprobrium so long as I think I’m right.

The latest flare-up in this matter involves the transfer of prisoners from men’s to women’s prisons, and vice versa, as outlined in the articles below from the Los Angeles Times (first piece) and the Associated Press. Click on the screenshots to read.

There’s also this article from WOLF (the Women’s Liberation Front), which is more tendentious and uses more anonymous sources. But it shouldn’t be ignored. I believe WOLF is one of those feminists organizations branded as TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), which seems even more restrictive of trans “rights” than I am. But their claims might well be right.

The backstory: last September, California governor Gaven Newsom signed a bill allowing people to occupy prisons conforming to their gender identity (with the exception of any “management or security concerns” by the state). Gender identity is determined solely by asking prisoners to name theirs when they enter prison (some of these are sexual offenders), and are based solely on self-identification—not on anatomy, chromosomes, or other markers.  There are similar laws in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York City.

One can envision problems with this, even if one used markers other than self-identification by gender. But going with the self-ID criterion alone, the possible problems for trans men who want to transfer to men’s prisons is that they are biological women, though they may have undergone hormone or surgical treatment (some prisons pay for that), and thus possible targets for harassment and rape. You can imagine the kind of flak such a prisoner would get given the rough nature of prison life. On the other hand, a trans woman who requests transfer to a women’s prison creates two kinds of problems. The first is that, if they still have the sexual equipment and urges of men, as well as the superior body strength of that sex, they could sexually assault cis female inmates. Or sexual congress could be unforced, with cis female inmates getting pregnant through voluntary sexual intercourse, creating the problem of pregnant prisoners which sex-segregation of prisons is meant to avoid.  (One can imagine that in both cases, someone of the opposite biological sex thrown into an institution of voluntary celibacy would create “issues.”) These issues should not arise, though, with those whose identity is not a ruse, and whose reasons for requesting transfer, is genuine.

The WOLF article, and their tweets below, reports that at least one California cis-woman inmate has gotten pregnant “after being housed with a male (i.e., trans-female) felon.” The implication is that this was rape, but it’s not at all clear what happened. What is clear is that the problem will increase. With the recent exponential rise in adolescent natal girls wanting to become trans-men, and laws (in my view misguided) that regard self-identification alone as an unchallengeable marker of both gender and sex (this is creating problems for sports as well), we have a recipe for trouble.

I thought the requests for transfer would be few, and the problem small, but the AP report says that there have been 261 requests for transfers since the law took effect on January 1 of this year. (1% of California’s prisoners, according to the AP, “identify as nonbinary, intersex, or transgender.”) Even without these transfers, the problem is acute, as they report a 2007 study that 59% of prison inmates in these gender categories experience sexual assault: a rate 13% higher than cis people.  It’s expected that, for example, if you identify as a woman in a man’s prison, and act or dress like one, you’re making yourself liable for assault by sexually deprived (and criminal) inmates. That is not the fault of the nonbinary or transgener prisoners, of course, but it’s a predictable problem that, like prison transfer, needs a solution.

Another issue, mentioned by the AP as a concern of prisoners and staff, is that prisoners may try to game the system. An untreated biological male may say he’s a transgender woman simply to get into a women’s prison where he might have access to women—and sex. Indeed, the LA Times article reports that one transgender woman incarcerated in a men’s prison knows of five biologically male inmates who have applied for transfer to women’s prisons “under false pretenses”.  Again, most of the reporting in these articles by inmates is hearsay, as names cannot be used.

Advocates of the California policy say the problems are few, but so far there have been few transfers. And those transfers that have occurred between prisons have attendant problems (not always—some prisoners report improved conditions after transfer), problems involving bad treatment of transsexual inmates. While it’s not fair for transsexual people to be treated differently in prison than on the outside, it’s understandable given the conditions of prison life.

As for the WOLF article; it’s summarized in part by the tweets below (indeed, the whole organization’s Twitter feed seems devoted to the California issue):

They add that women’s prisons have started informing inmates about abortion, adoption, and prenatal care, and making both condoms and the Plan B pill available to inmates.  I can’t confirm this from any other article. The article also makes the following claims, some of which are verifiable (but which I haven’t verified):

Women’s prisons across the state appear to be making final preparations such as these for a massive wave of transfers after nearly 300 requests were initiated following SB 132 going into effect in January of this year. So far, only about 20 of the transfers have been processed (and exactly zero transfer requests have been denied) — leaving hundreds of men, many of whom are sex offenders, awaiting entry into the women’s estate.

. . . The facilities are also increasing security measures in preparation for potentially hundreds of new dangerous and violent men living alongside the vulnerable female inmate population. Women’s prisons have traditionally been lower-security and afforded more privileges to inmates since incarcerated women are less violent than men and pose a lower risk to Correctional Officers (COs) and each other. CCWF’s prison yard, for example, had been home for over three decades to trees which provided shade from the desert sun and a home to local birds. Once the men started coming, the trees were cut down, as they were seen as a security risk. (CCWF denies this happened, despite the first-hand accounts from incarcerated women). The security level of individual male inmates is otherwise completely disregarded once they enter the women’s facility, as prisons opt instead to remove privileges from all inmates.

. . .The prison has been unable to prevent or stop sexual activity between male inmates housed with incarcerated women, though. Sources tell us there have been incidents of sexual assault, as well as illicit sexual activity between the male inmates and women, putting the women at risk of pregnancy and disease, including HIV, as well as increased risk of disciplinary actions that can affect chances of parole. Avoiding the negative consequences of sex between males and females is, of course, one reason why prisons are single-sex to begin with.

As more men arrive at the women’s facilities, the crisis will only worsen. In just six months since the enactment of SB 132, the number of incarcerated people self-identifying as trans or non-binary (thus becoming eligible to request a facility transfer) has increased from 1,088 to 1,237. The nearly 300 pending transfers are only the beginning of the invasion of women’s prisons by violent male inmates, including convicted murderers and rapists.

“You might as well declare the prison is co-ed and ship us off to Pelican Bay!” one devastated woman currently incarcerated in CCWF said.

As I said, there is no substantive documentation of the anecdotes or verbal assertions of inmates in California from WOLF, though, as in the penultimate paragraph, there are checkable statements.

The good news is that this is not an insoluble problem. One solution is to have special wings for transsexual prisoners segregated from other cis-sexual inmates. That, however, would violate the trans-activist claim that “trans women are women and trans men are men.”

Sadly, that isn’t always the way they’re treated in prison, and all the activism in the world can’t prevent rapes, sexual congress in supposedly single-sex prisons, or violence. What is clear is that there is a problem, that it will grow more serious, and that adhering to the mantra above will do nothing to solve it.

Really? Defund the police?

August 10, 2021 • 11:15 am

Cori Bush, a Congresswoman representing Missouri’s First Congressional District, is one of those people who want to defund the police. And yet she has her own private security detail for which her office, according to the article discussed below, paid nearly $70,00 for just 2.5 months this year.  Here’s her rationale on Twitter:

According to Woodhouse’s piece on defunding the police (below), “When asked about this apparent hypocrisy, [Bush’s] answer was sharp, “Would you rather see me die?”

Bush’s further rationale, as told to CBS News, was that her funds, unlike “regular” police funds, were being used to protect her from white supremacists who would try to kill her. But that’s the same reason that the defunders give for not having any police! At any rate, I suspect that she, like all members of Congress, could get a public security detail if her life was really threatened.

According to the article below, which just appeared on Bari Weiss’s Substack site, most of those who want to deep-six the cops seem to be from areas that don’t have much crime, and are mostly white. In contrast, black people, often living in crime-ridden areas, often want more police presence, and don’t favor defunding. I think that’s borne out by statistics, too, but I don’t have them at hand. All I know is that night after night I hear black people on the local news, people who have lost loved ones to gun violence, demanding that our mayor cough up more police presence.

Click the screenshot to read Woodhouse’s piece (he’s a documentary filmmaker and journalist):

I’ve already given his argument: those who call for defunding the cops are those who aren’t desperate for more police protection. Here I just want to relate a few anecdotes from Woodhouse’s piece, as some of the defunders are absolutely unbelievable. When they say “defunding” they really do mean no more police.  When asked what will replace the cops, they mumble about social workers and negotiators. Well, those people do have a place working with police, and I strongly believe there should be a place for non-police, like those experienced with domestic violence, to work with the police to minimize violence and show up after 911 calls. But to drastically cut police budgets to do that? I’m not a fan.

Meet a big-time defunder:

This typifies the split between the two sides of this debate: critics from the neighborhoods most affected by violence tend to regard the defund crowd as outsiders with their own agenda. Defund advocates, meanwhile, tend to regard those critics as either corrupted or manipulated by the police.

Foremost among those advocates is Cat Brooks, the co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, one of the main groups pushing for defunding the Oakland Police Department. She was brought up in Las Vegas by a white mother who was an anti-domestic violence activist. Her father, a black man, struggled with substance abuse and ended up in prison. “I watched him be terrorized and traumatized by law enforcement,” she recalled.

While pursuing a career in acting in Los Angeles, Brooks stumbled into political activism, which eventually brought her to Oakland. In 2018, she ran for mayor, coming in second with about a quarter of the vote.

When I asked Brooks about the two Council members — both black — who voted against the reduction in the police budget she was unambiguous in her contempt. They are “representing the interests of the police, and they’re representing the interests of development,” she said. “If they were representing the interests of the people, then they, too, should want black bodies to stop falling.” [JAC: could these people please stop using “black bodies” to mean “black people”? It’s at least as dehumanizing as saying “slaves” for “enslaved people.”]

But Taylor [an Oakland councilman who voted against defunding] questions who Brooks’ group represents. “A significant amount of that movement calling for defunding without regard for those calling for service don’t reflect my community,” he said. “They’re not the ones making the two-thirds of the calls to 911.”

This is a sad tale of a meeting of the two sides, then we get back to the odious Cat:

Last month, the two sides met face to face at a rally to stop gun violence at Oakland’s Lake Merritt that was organized, in part, by the police department. I wasn’t there, but my colleague Lee Fang was. He described the scene as “surreal,” with families, mostly African-American, mourning the deaths of their loved ones, while a small group of mostly white protesters jeered at them for collaborating with the police. Towers, who attended the event and spoke directly to the protesters, described them as “a lot of white folks that don’t even live out here.”

This reminds me of the white folks eager to say “Latinx” to show their savvy when speaking of Hispanics. Only 4% of real Latinas and Latinos would choose “Latinx” as their self description, with 61% preferring “Hispanics”. So let’s cut out the “Latinx” nonsense as well!

But I digress; let’s return to Cat:

When I asked Brooks if she supports the abolition of police, she said, “Absolutely. Unapologetically.” Describing the role of the police in society, she said, “Their job is to maintain the status quo. And the status quo is race-based capitalism. And so they are the front line soldiers of the larger system of white supremacy, which is the engine of this country, both here locally and globally.”

Now there’s a mouthful of unthinking jargon for you!  I wonder what Cat would replace with the police with, or would she just let criminals go wild. Too bad Woodhouse didn’t ask her that question.

After Woodhouse visits a black barbershop and heard most of the customers denying that white cops killing black people is the big problem, but rather blacks killing other blacks, he returns to the protest and gives a few anecdotes that show the usual suspects mouthing woke sentiments:

The consensus in the room echoed what I heard from Chief Armstrong and Councilman Taylor rather than the worldview of the anti-police protesters at Lake Merritt holding signs reading “Quit Your Job, KKKop.”

On the national stage, though, the “KKKop” message has real resonance. Cori Bush has compared policing to slavery. So has Jamaal Bowman, a recently elected congressman from the Bronx. Rep. Rashida Tlaib has called policing “inherently and intentionally racist” and said that it “can’t be reformed.” The same arguments have been published in The New Yorker and The New York Times.

Yes, do check the links, because they say what Woodhouse said they said.  The world is insane—or at least a big slice of it is.

Legal Aid Society demonizes progressive public defender who criticized racial tribalism

July 13, 2021 • 11:00 am

I’m not going to go into detail about this issue, which was described on Bari Weiss’s site (I think her article is free). Suffice it to say that it tells the tale of how a progressive Democrat, who worked in the trenches for the Legal Aid Society, providing legal help to the indigent (largely black people), can still get harassed and bullied because she doesn’t adhere to the au courant version of critical race theory.

Click on the screenshot to read about Maud Maron, a liberal lawyer trained by Kathleen Cleaver (look her up), and an employee of the Legal Aid Society of New York since 1998.  By all accounts of her close colleagues, she’s a terrific lawyer. But none of those who praised her dared give their names. Why? Because she’s in the process of being canceled for writing a letter to the New York Post denouncing the racial tribalism promoted by Critical Race Theory and its everyday interpretations and tenets.

Here’s Weiss’s article:

Here’s the letter that Maron, who has the best social-justice bona fides of any white person I know, wrote to the New York Post (click on the screenshot):

Quotes from the letter:

I am a mom, a public defender, an elected public-school council member and a City Council candidate. But at a city Department of Education anti-bias training, I was instructed to refer to myself as a “white woman” — as if my whole life reduces to my race.

Those who oppose this ideology are shunned and humiliated, even as it does nothing to actually improve our broken schools.

Though facing severe budget cuts, the DOE has spent more than $6 million for the training, which defines qualities such as “worship of the written word,” “individualism” and “objectivity” as “white-supremacy culture.”

The administration, and many local politicians, buy into a benign-sounding but chilling doctrine called anti-racism, which ­insists on defining everyone by race, invites discrimination and divides all thought and behavior along a racial axis.

Many of the theories trace to “White Fragility,” a small-minded book which relentlessly insists all white people are racist and need to think about race all the time. Conveniently for its author, who charges $6,000 an hour to discuss this conundrum, there is no way to fix the situation … except with more of her expensive workshops.

. . .We all want a well-integrated, high-quality public-school system. Parents have the right to demand an education that prepares their children to meet or exceed grade-level expectations, which in America often lag other countries.

Those who yell the loudest about integration should stop the accusations against those who think or speak differently than they do about the shared goal of integrated, quality schools — and find ways to work together.

Well, you can imagine the result. Maron was attacked by the Black Attorneys of Legal Aid Caucus, who said she wasn’t qualified to be a public defender, and called “a classic example of what 21st century racism looks like.” Her commitment to representing people of color in court (which she had done very well) was questioned, and the social-media mob went after her on Twitter. One example:

The result? She filed a Title VII lawsuit for workplace harassment, and is having trouble finding not only lawyers to defend her, but also people to defend her using their names. Bunch of cowards! Nor did the Legal Aid Society come to her defense before the lawsuit was filed.

Here’s Maron’s 168-page lawsuit against Legal Aid for creating a hostile work environment (click on screenshot):

This is a prime example of what Sam Harris referred to yesterday in his interview with Helen Pluckrose when he said these things:

“Grownups should be able to talk about more or less everything with a cool head and not endlessly castigate one another for merely thinking out loud.”

“One of the things that’s so pernicious about this silencing effect is that it creates an illusion of consensus where you have the most voluble and hysterical activists taking up most of the oxygen and successfully cowing other people into silence for fear of the reputational damage that awaits them if they open their big mouths on any number of topics, race being only one.”

. . . “Racism exists in some places, but doesn’t exist everywhere, and it is being claimed to exist everywhere and is being found everywhere in what is clearly a mass hallucination. And this hallucination is being defended by people who are highly incentivized to defend it; and the level of dishonesty and callousness that surrounds this whole enterprise is just appalling. Genuinely good people, who everybody knows are not racist or sexist or transphobic, are being sacrificed to this new religion.”

Maud Maron is one of the genuinely good people who is becoming a human sacrifice. Ceiling Cat help us all!

Supreme Court rules for cheerleader accused of obscene and disruptive speech

June 23, 2021 • 12:30 pm

I’m told by reader Ken that a number of important Supreme Court rulings are coming out today, and this appears to be the first. By an 8-1 vote, with Clarence Thomas dissenting (see full opinion below), the court showed near unanimity in ruling that Brandi Levy, a Pennsylvania high school student, had not violated the First Amendment by sending out a Snapchat message when she was off school grounds. Click to read the NYT story:

Ninth grader Levy, upset that she didn’t make the varsity cheerleading squad, put out a short Snapchat message with her middle finger upraised, saying, “Fuck school;” “Fuck softball;” Fuck cheer”; and “Fuck everything.”  Although, like all Snapchat messages, it disappeared on its own, someone took a screenshot and called it to the school’s attention. The school suspended Levy from cheerleading for a year, arguing that her speech caused “chaos” and disrupted the “teamlike environment.”

Levy sued and won in a federal appeals court on the grounds that her speech was made off school grounds and was therefore protected by the First Amendment. (The Court previously ruled that students could be punished if their speech was on school grounds and caused “material and substantial disruption” of school functions.) According to the NYT article, though, there was divergence among the judges about why her speech remained protected:

Though the Third Circuit was united in ruling for Ms. Levy, the judges disagreed about the rationale. The majority announced a categorical rule barring discipline for off-campus speech that seemed to limit the ability of public schools to address many kinds of disturbing communications by students on social media, including racist threats and cyberbullying.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Thomas L. Ambro wrote that he would have ruled for Ms. Levy on narrower grounds. It would have been enough, he said, to say that her speech was protected by the First Amendment because it did not disrupt school activities. The majority was wrong, he said, to protect all off-campus speech.

The Supreme Court has limited students’ First Amendment rights since the Tinker decision in 1969. In the court’s last major decision on students’ free speech, in 2007, for instance, the court sided with a principal who had suspended a student for displaying a banner that said “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.”

In general, though, I count this as a victory for the First Amendment. There was clearly no violation of free speech by Ms. Levy saying “Fuck softball/school/cheer/everything”.  I’m not sure about whether the Court’s new ruling really would protect off-campus speech that could include “racist threats” and “cyberbullying”, for some examples of those behaviors could constitute harassment in the work(school)place.

Her speech, though, was clearly off campus, and disruptive though some may have seen it, is not subject to the school’s authority.

I wonder if she’ll go back to cheerleading, or will make the varsity squad.

Here’s the 8-1 opinion, with only Clarence Thomas dissenting on the grounds that whether this speech was really “off campus” is unclear. You can download the pdf by clicking on the arrow to the right.

Click to access 20-255_g3bi.pdf

Japan’s death penalty

June 15, 2021 • 9:15 am

Below are two videos (the first, at 12.5 minutes, is a bit long) showing the difference between the only two First World countries that still have the death penalty: Japan and the U.S.  Here, from Amnesty International via the BBC, is a map of countries that still execute criminals:

Wikipedia is a decent source of information about how capital punishment works in Japan but an even better site is here. First, unlike the U.S., Japan imposes the death penalty almost always for multiple murders, while in the U.S. it’s often imposed for murders of individuals—usually either children or those killed in a gruesome manner. (I have some confidence that Biden will stay all pending federal executions, but he has no power to stay executions of people convicted in state court.)

Japan and the U.S. have about equal per capita rates of execution. In Japan 18 people were executed in 2018-2019 alone, while in the US. 47 people were executed during the same two years. The population of the U.S. is 2.6 times that of Japan, so the rates are almost exactly the same.

There’s only one method of execution in Japan: “long drop” hanging, which breaks the neck. In the U.S., you can still die by firing squad, the electric chair, or lethal injection, though the federal government uses only the last method. All executions in Japan are carried out in Tokyo or Osaka, while in the U.S. federal executions are carried out only in the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana (state executions are carried out in the relevant states).

One difference, shown in the video below, is a big one: in the U.S. you are given an execution date, though it may be put off through legal appeals. But if those appeals fail, you know exactly the day on which you’ll die. In contrast, in Japan you never know when you’ll be executed until the morning of the execution.  You’re simply informed, given a last meal, and summarily hanged (see below). Unlike the U.S., there are no witnesses save government and prison officials, and the prisoner’s lawyers and family are not informed about the execution until it’s over.

To me, the Japanese method seems more cruel than that of the US. Imagine living day to day (and some prisoners have waited about 40 years, while the average is about six years) not knowing whether each day will be your last! To me, that would seem to impose a constant, torturous anxiety on a prisoner.  (As I’ve said, I oppose the death penalty altogether.) If you feel otherwise, and this is an important question to me, weigh in below.

Below is a video with a series of photos of what the condemned Japanese prisoner sees on his way to the noose. First we see the prison, and then the room where the condemned man is allowed to sit and speak with the prison chaplain. On the way to the hanging chamber, he passes a Buddhist icon. Then on to the noose. As an informative page on Japan’s death penalty (worth reading if you can stomach it) describes the process:

After a death row inmate is notified of his fate he is first taken to a prayer room with a Buddhist altar where the condemned is read his last rites, a senior prison official listens to his last words and the inmate is allowed to speak with a prison chaplain, usually a a Buddhist priest or Christian pastor. After leaving the prayer room the inmate walks down the corridor to an anterior chamber where the prison warden officially declare that the execution will be carried out. At the Tokyo facility a gold Buddhist statues stand opposite the room’s door. The anterior chamber is separated from the execution chamber by a bright blue curtains. On the side of the execution chamber is a viewing area, where the prison warden, prosecutors and other officials watch the execution.

There are, as the video below shows, three buttons, one of which controls the trapdoor. At a signal, three men press the buttons, so nobody knows who exactly caused the drop. This is similar to U.S. firing squads, in which one rifleman is given a gun with a blank in it, so each man can think that he didn’t shoot the prisoner.

It’s all a horrible business, and it’s more expensive, at least in the U.S., than a sentence of life without parole. Nor is capital punishment a deterrent.  As far as I’m concerned, the death penalty is simply the state itself committing the killing, and it accomplishes nothing that life without parole could accomplish. Killing someone is retributive punishment, pure and simple. And there’s one huge advantage of the no-execution policy: if a prisoner is later found to be innocent, they can be set free. (This happens surprisingly often.) That can’t occur if you’re dead.

Let’s take a poll, but I do want to hear people’s views in the comments.

If we must have capital punishment, which system do you favor?

View Results

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Why the big increase in U.S. murders? Andrew Sullivan has a theory which is his.

June 12, 2021 • 12:45 pm

We know two things: that the murder and shooting rate in America has gone sky high, especially in big cities, and we know that, at the same time, many on the Left are trying to defund the police. Now police reform is one thing (I do approve of social workers going along on calls that require that kind of treatment), but deeply cutting police budgets right now is a recipe for disaster—disaster for both human lives and for the Democratic Party.

In Chicago, for instance, 289 people have already been killed this year, and the year is barely half over. But that’s already 16 more people killed than in all of 2020! If you extrapolate the present rate to the entire year, it would represent an increase of about 96% over 2020! In the article below, which reports similar increases elsewhere and tries to find a cause, Andrew Sullivan summarizes the data, drawing from the New York Times:

Here’s the NYT summary of the data, to start with:

Homicide rates in large cities were up more than 30 percent on average last year, and up another 24 percent for the beginning of this year, according to criminologists … Homicides in Portland, Ore., rose to 53 from 29, up more than 82 percent; in Minneapolis, they grew to 79 from 46, up almost 72 percent; and in Los Angeles the number increased to 351 from 258, a 36 percent climb … Homicides in Philadelphia are up almost 28 percent, with 170 through May 9, compared with 133 in the same period last year; in Tucson, Ariz., the number jumped to 30 from 17 through May 13, an increase of 76 percent.

By any measure, that’s a huge increase. Yes, we’re still in a relatively low crime environment. But the suddenness of the rise and its scale are striking.

Clearly, now is not the time to reduce policing, and clearly not the time to eliminate policing, which some “progressives” do indeed want. For another thing is certain: reducing policing will just raise the rate of crime, especially violent crime, and will cost more lives. The increase in homicides isn’t explained by a big increase in murders by white police, but, according to stats compiled in recent years, largely by black-on-black crime.  Increasing the murder rate by reducing policing (a “solution” that both Sullivan and I deplore) will simply lead to a disproportionate loss of black lives.

Click on the screenshot to read the article:

Here are the possible reasons for the increase in murders and shootings considered by Sullivan, and why he rejects some.

a.) The pandemic.  Doesn’t seem feasible to Sullivan because lockdowns tend to reduce rather than increase crime, a reduction that in fact was observed in much of the world.

b.) Poverty caused by the pandemic. Again, doesn’t seem feasible because crimes that enrich the perp, like burglary, larceny, and drug offenses, dropped from previous years. So did “food insecurity.”

c.) “The fentanyl crisis”.  Doesn’t seem plausible because opioid peddling isn’t connected with much crime.

d. Defunding the police.  Not likely, for not much defunding has yet taken place.

But what does seem likely to Sullivan is the next hypothesis:

e.) A wariness by police to do “proactive” or heavy law enforcement following the murder of George Floyd and its sequelae, which included increased demonization of police. 

There’s no doubt that there’s a temporal correlation between homicides, shootings and the murder of Floyd, but of course correlation isn’t causation. Here, though, is a plot Sullivan presents of shots fired over time during the Floyd “era” (Minneapolis, of course, is where Floyd was murdered):

The spike in shootings followed Floyd’s death almost immediately, and has risen to double its pre-murder rate since then. Sullivan thinks that, in this case, the correlation does represent causality:

Of course, that is not causation. But it’s one hell of a correlation — and no other event seems relevant. It’s as if the Floyd murder, and the subsequent urban chaos, sent a signal: the cops are on the defensive. Which means murderers can go on the offensive. And once lawlessness establishes itself, it tends to compound. A few gang murders can soon morph into tit-for-tat urban warfare.

Sullivan supports this thesis with other data as well, including the widespread opprobrium directed toward the police, which partly explains, I think, the attrition of police forces in many places. Why be a cop when everybody hates you (“all cops are bastards”) and your job may be insecure?

After this relentless assault, regular police officers noticed. Many quit:

In Chicago, 560 officers retired in 2020 in a police department that had about 13,100 sworn officers as of March, records show. That’s about 15% more cops retiring than during the previous year, when the number of retirements rose by nearly 30%. In New York City, 2,500 cops retired last year, nearly double the number in 2019, according to the New York Police Department, which has about 34,500 uniformed officers. In Minneapolis, about 40 officers retired last year, and another 120 took leaves of absence. That’s nearly 20% of a police department.

But manpower was not the most significant factor. What truly mattered, Cassell argues, is that the police pulled back from the kind of aggressive, pro-active policing that has been shown to be most helpful in reducing fatal civilian shootings — but also most likely to lead to fatal encounters with the police. In Minneapolis, for example, “police stops and officer-initiated calls dropped more than half, use-of-force incidents fell by two-thirds while traffic-related incidents and patrols became far less common.” Residents complained that the cops were slow to come, or were in the neighborhoods with their windows up.

Plainclothes police details have been cut sharply in some places. All this, says Sullivan has taken its toll on the cops, who now “refrain from the kind of pro-active policing that can lead to exactly the kind of incidents that can become viral–aggressive intervention against armed criminals before they kill.

Now Sullivan admits that this is just a guess, but it’s at least supported by independent data, unlike my own earlier hypothesis, which was that the pandemic just made people edgy and desperate, leading to more killings.

Sullivan’s “guess” may well be right, though he hastens to add that he’s not arguing against police reform or shifting some police activities to mental health professionals.

Being a cop is a job I wouldn’t want to have, though I can see its appeal to authoritarian personalities. But it also appeals to those who want to make the community safer, for I do not believe that all cops are evil. I even believe that many cops are on an even keel, not racist, and try to do an honorable job (remember, if nothing else, that many cops are black).  But Sullivan sees a big irony here, for “defunding the police” is an official part of the Black Lives Matter agenda. So Sullivan ends this way:

This is not an argument against police reform or even against shifting some core responsibilities — mental health incidents, for example — to other kinds of professionals. It is an argument that pro-active policing has been more important in restraining crime than many have acknowledged; that removing it, before reforming the entire system, is extremely dangerous; and that elite complacency in the face of lawlessness and destruction in the summer of 2020 helped ignite a cycle of murder that is very hard to unwind. When crimes are committed with impunity, more crimes will be committed. And the victims will not be at Yale.

So this scenario prompts a question of supreme irony: what if the final legacy of Black Lives Matter is that it actually succeeds in its core goal, and that in the future, far fewer African-Americans are shot by the cops. And what if the price of this symbolic victory is, in fact, a huge increase in the numbers of innocent black lives lost to civilian murder? That’s a trade-off worth discussing, before it becomes a new norm that’s very hard to undo.

The ACLU loses its way

June 7, 2021 • 9:15 am

I was always a big fan of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), admiring their single-minded dedication to preserving our civil liberties, most notably those specified by the First Amendment. But they also saved my bacon when I took the government to court for drafting me illegally as a conscientious objector. When I went to they ACLU, they started a class-action suit (I paid nothing) that we won, resulting in the release from service of myself and several thousand other guys.

But about five years ago the ACLU went off the rails, at least in my view. Instead of defending civil liberties and free speech, they began to ponder whether free speech and social justice might be incompatible in some ways, with words actually constituting “violence” that could hurt minorities. The real derailing, resulting in today’s split ACLU, began in August, 2017, when the ACLU won the right for far-right groups to demonstrate in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia instead of outside the center city. That demonstration, of course, led to violence, right-wing marches complete with bigoted slogans, and, eventually, to a white-supremacist protestor driving his car into a crowd, killing Heather Heyer. But I don’t hold the ACLU responsible for the death, though some do.

Although the ACLU was already morphing from a civil rights organization into a social justice organization, the Charlottesville debacle made many members and administrators rethink their mission. And since then the transformation has been more rapid, as described in a New York Times article (click on the screenshot below). It’s not the social-justice mission I object to so much—though some of the ACLU’s stands, like wholeheartedly supporting the right of transgender women, even those medically untreated, to participate in women’s sports, are wrongheaded—but to the fact that there are dozens of organizations already fighting for all forms of social justice, while the ACLU was unique in the singlemindedness of its mission. Now, at least on campus, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is taking over its job, but without the same dosh or resources backing the ACLU.

Although I’ve written about this before, the article has a lot more “inside” quotes both for and against the new mission of the ACLU.

An intro (we’ve met Ira Glasser before):

The A.C.L.U., America’s high temple of free speech and civil liberties, has emerged as a muscular and richly funded progressive powerhouse in recent years, taking on the Trump administration in more than 400 lawsuits. But the organization finds itself riven with internal tensions over whether it has stepped away from a founding principle — unwavering devotion to the First Amendment.

Its national and state staff members debate, often hotly, whether defense of speech conflicts with advocacy for a growing number of progressive causes, including voting rights, reparations, transgender rights and defunding the police.

Those debates mirror those of the larger culture, where a belief in the centrality of free speech to American democracy contends with ever more forceful progressive arguments that hate speech is a form of psychological and even physical violence. These conflicts are unsettling to many of the crusading lawyers who helped build the A.C.L.U.

The organization, said its former director Ira Glasser, risks surrendering its original and unique mission in pursuit of progressive glory.

“There are a lot of organizations fighting eloquently for racial justice and immigrant rights,” Mr. Glasser said. “But there’s only one A.C.L.U. that is a content-neutral defender of free speech. I fear we’re in danger of losing that.”

And here’s the scary bits, which I put in bold:

One hears markedly less from the A.C.L.U. about free speech nowadays. Its annual reports from 2016 to 2019 highlight its role as a leader in the resistance against President Donald J. Trump. But the words “First Amendment” or “free speech” cannot be found. Nor do those reports mention colleges and universities, where the most volatile speech battles often play out.

Since Mr. Trump’s election, the A.C.L.U. budget has nearly tripled to more than $300 million as its corps of lawyers doubled. The same number of lawyers — four — specialize in free speech as a decade ago.

Some A.C.L.U. lawyers and staff members argue that the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and the press — as well as freedom of religion, assembly and petitioning the government — is more often a tool of the powerful than the oppressed.

“First Amendment protections are disproportionately enjoyed by people of power and privilege,” said Dennis Parker, who directed the organization’s Racial Justice Program until he left in late 2018.

To which David Cole, the national legal director of the A.C.L.U., rejoined in an interview: “Everything that Black Lives Matter does is possible because of the First Amendment.”

After Charlottesville, the ACLU began its shift, which I’m sure will go further. I wrote at the time about how the organization issued a memo beginning to back off defense of free speech. A quote from today’s NYT piece:

But longtime free speech advocates like Floyd Abrams, perhaps the nation’s leading private First Amendment lawyer, disagreed. The new guidelines left him aghast.

“The last thing they should be thinking about in a case is which ideological side profits,” he said. “The A.C.L.U. that used to exist would have said exactly the opposite.”

And the old ACLU was right. If you don’t keep freedom of expression as an inviolate principle, then speech is subject to the vagaries of not only who controls the government but also, like now, of which ideological views are considered acceptable. Right now we’re seeing this clash play out largely on college campuses, often through official ideological announcements as well as deplatformings, disinvitations, and cancellations of speakers. And this is where FIRE has picked up the torch, for the ACLU doesn’t get much involved. Even here the clash between free speech and offense has led to the University of Chicago’s violating its own principles of academic freedom and free expression.

While the ACLU continues to take traditional civil liberties cases, it’s now sometimes taken stands opposite to what it would done in the past. For example, Chase Strangio, the transgender ACLU staff attorney in charge of that part of the new mission, has called for censorship of Abigail Shrier’s book on gender dysphoria. Censorship—from the ACLU!

To wit:

And the ACLU opposed the Title IX changes made by the Trump administration (one of the few laudable things it did) assuring a fairer process in sexual-misconduct hearings in college.

Further, below you’ll see a tweet from the ACLU of Ohio not only jettisoning the presumption of innocence, but ignoring that the officer criticized here was trying to prevent a murder. It’s madness for the ACLU to issue a statement like this (yes, official tweets are statements) violating not only the known facts, but the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” In fact, from what I know so far, the police officer acted correctly.

I mourn the new direction of the ACLU, but of course that’s the direction that everything is going. While the organization will still do good stuff involving social justice, it will also do questionable stuff, as we’ve just seen. And I can’t think of a single case in which their past defenses of the First Amendment have been deplorable.

If the First Amendment and free speech is to be preserved, it must be preserved for everybody, with a few exceptions already carved out by the courts. We don’t need more exceptions, especially to placate those who equate speech with violence.

Here’s a humorous prescription by Katie Herzog. I agree, though we don’t need an ACLU Jr., as there are already plenty of those organizations.

And here’s a list of my posts, with links, describing and mourning the ACLU’s new direction:

The ACLU backs off defending free speech in favor of promoting social justice

New improved standards proposed for adjudicating sexual misconduct in college; ACLU opposes them for “inappropriately favoring the accused”

The ACLU defends the right of biological men to compete in women’s sports

ACLU continues defending the right of medically untreated men who claim they’re women to compete in women’s sports

ACLU joins lawsuit allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports

h/t for Herzog tweet: Eli

Branch of Rutgers Law School rescinds unconstitutional requirement mandating “viewpoint discrimination” with respect to CRT

May 28, 2021 • 9:15 am

The craziness that is engulfing American universities with respect to Critical Race Theory is exemplified by a recent ruing of the Student Bar Association of Rutgers Law School-Camden.  Fortunately, some timely intervention from the estimable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), recounted in its article below (click on screenshot), forced the students to rescind their rule.

Click on the screenshot to read:

As FIRE reports in an earlier post:

The SBA of Rutgers’ Camden campus added a section to its constitution entitled “Student Organizations Fostering Diversity and Inclusion” on Nov. 20 [2020], mandating that any group that wishes to receive more than $250 in university funding must “plan at least one (1) event that addresses their chosen topics through the lens of Critical Race Theory, diversity and inclusion, or cultural competency.” Last fall, 19 of 22 student groups requested more than $250.

This puts student clubs in a bind: Should they request the funding they need, even though it would require planning an event — such as hosting a speaker, outing, or mixer — that may be at odds with or unrelated to the group’s own views?

As FIRE noted, Rutgers is a state university, and is therefore forbidden by Supreme Court rulings from “viewpoint discrimination,” which includes differential distribution of funds to student groups based on their politics or views. The requirement that student groups—many of which surely aren’t involved with CRT—hold specific events promoting CRT is therefore unconstitutional. This was pointed out to the President of Rutgers in a 5-page letter from FIRE on May 17.

After the letter arrived, the Student Bar Association (SBA) met with the Rutgers administration and rescinded their stipulation. The SBA Presidents, however, responded petulantly, saying in a May 23 email to the student body that they did this because of the issues involved and the time deadline, but that they were not giving up. This section of the letter implies that they’ll continue their unconstitutional—and ultimately futile—fight. Click to enlarge:

Of course “the other guys who say so” include the Supreme Court! It’s almost humorous that they think they can pass the amendment again or something like it. That would also be unconstitutional.

It’s manifestly obvious that no public school can force its constituent groups to present seminars pushing a particular ideology. It’s as if a conservative SBA voted that every funded student group would have to present a seminar favoring unrestricted access to guns by Americans, or blanket opposition to immigration. Be the issue on the liberal or conservative side, groups cannot be forced to adhere to or present a favored ideology.

The fact that the Rutgers SBA could even try something like this tells us about the warped thinking that has infected America in the last year. There’s nothing wrong with fighting racism, but there’s everything wrong with fighting it by using unconstitutional means forcing others who may disagree with your methods to nevertheless mouth your approved ideology. It also tells us that a Student Bar Association that blatantly violates a Supreme Court decision needs to bone up on its law.

Supreme Court agrees to decide major abortion case: not good news for Roe v. Wade

May 17, 2021 • 10:15 am

This article from the NYT, and several others, is not good news for pro-choice people or supporters of Roe v. Wade, of which I’m one.  Click on the screenshot:

The decision to take up the Mississippi abortion restrictions was made by the Supreme Court this morning.

Determined to overturn Roe v. Wade, and, indeed, in some cases to prohibit abortion nearly completely, a number of states passed palpably unconstitutional laws designed to get wend their way to the Supreme Court, hoping that the new conservative court would roll back the federal abortion law. One of those states was Mississippi. As the NYT reports:

The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, No. 19- 1392, concerns a law enacted by the Republican-dominated Mississippi legislature that banned abortions if “the probable gestational age of the unborn human” was determined to be more than 15 weeks. The statute included narrow exceptions for medical emergencies or “a severe fetal abnormality.”

Lower courts said the law was plainly unconstitutional under Roe, which forbids states from banning abortions before fetal viability — the point at which fetuses can sustain life outside the womb, or around 23 or 24 weeks.

Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic sued, saying the law ran afoul of Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that affirmed Roe’s core holding.

Judge Carlton W. Reeves of Federal District Court in Jackson, Miss., blocked the law in 2018, saying the legal issue was straightforward and questioning the state lawmakers’ motives.

Note that Mississippi has just ONE abortion clinic, but was successful in getting the Mississippi law blocked. As NBC News reports, the judge who blocked the law said that the state: “”chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to enforce a decades-long campaign, fueled by interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade.”  I suppose there’s no law against passing an unconstitutional law, for that’s how cases get re-adjudicated.  But there was nothing mandating readjudication save the composition of the Supreme Court.

That the Supremes decided to take up the appeal by Mississippi is not a good sign, for had they turned it back, the law would have remained blocked. Can you imagine that the new court would uphold Roe v. Wade? I can’t.

In 1973 Roe v. Wade was decided by a 7-2 vote, with White and Rehnquist dissenting. Now, however, conservatives have a 6-3 majority, and I’m feeling a bit queasy. The NYT says that the Supremes will hear arguments in the next term, which begins in October, and render a decision by mid 2022.

Does this mean that when science improves to the point when a fetus can remain viable outside the womb from day 1, with gestation provided in vitro, then abortion will become completely illegal except, perhaps, in cases of incest, rape, or severe deformities incompatible with life? For one thing is for sure: someday science will get to that point.


h/t: Ken