Saturday, December 27, 2014

Bad Actors

This isn't what I am talking about.

One reason a lot of people get snookered by bad deals, is that I think a lot of us have good hearts and think well of other people.  We would not steal or con others out of money.  If we found someone's wallet or cell phone on the sidewalk, we'd turn it in to the police or try to find the rightful owner.   We'd do unto others....

Not everyone feels that way.   And not just a few people, either.

There are people, as I mentioned in my last posting, who would just rather not work and sit around and get shitfaced all day long.   Some of them are fairly harmless, in that they just want to get as fucked up as possible without harming others - too much.   But of course, their agenda of continuous partying does affect us all - as eventually, the rest of us have to pick up the slack and pay for their health care and for their food stamps, welfare, SSI, or whatever it is that keeps them alive as long as they live.

But others.... Well, they will take you for every nickel you have and not feel a nanosecond of remorse over having taken your life's savings away.  Take this friendly fellow in the wheelchair, who pretends to be mentally disabled, but then laughs and admits he takes home $100,000 a year, begging.  What is appalling about this behavior is that there are people who are truly needy, and his con-job makes one reluctant to give to the needy as a result.

But of course, he is pretty small potatoes.   There are other "bad actors" in the world - a term used in the law.  A "bad actor" is someone who, well, does bad acts.   He is not merely someone caught up in circumstance, but rather someone who intentionally acts in a bad way, for his own financial gain.

And folks like this have an easy time of it, too, because folks like you and me don't think he exists.   So, when we see some "homeless" person on the street, we feel sorry for them, because it would never occur to us that the "homeless" person might actually be wealthier than we are, and playing us for a fool.

When we hear about someone who was "wrongfully incarcerated" we immediately become sympathetic, and listen to their tale of woe and wrongdoing by the Police.   He seems like such a nice guy - how could he be guilty of anything?   And those mean, old Police!  They gave us a ticket last month - we know they are no good, right?   People are quick to extend sympathy for convicted murders, thieves and drug dealers, but have little sympathy for the victims of their crimes.

I was watching police chase videos on YouTube, and the comments section was interesting.   Most of the viewers, it seems, were quick to condemn the Police, but few defended them.   If the Police made one tiny mistake in a traffic stop or in a pursuit, they were chastised.   But the criminal, who is driving a stolen car, wanted for credit card fraud, held up a liquor store, had drugs in the car with their children - or whatever - is given a free ride.   All we are concerned about, is his "rights".

You know what?  Uh-uh.   A common statistic batted around is that we incarcerate more people in this country than anyone in the world, except China.   I say, good.   Of course, if you ask them, they are all innocent as new fallen snow.   The reality, of course, is something different.   Our crime rate has dropped dramatically in the last two decades.  I think incarceration has something to do with it.

Now, a lot of people say that drug offenses are one reason so many people are in jail.   This may be true, but it oversimplifies the situation.   Most drug offenders are in there for selling hard drugs such as cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, heroin, and the like - drugs that kill people.   You know what?  I don't have a problem with them being in jail - because their customers steal everyone's shit to pay for their habits.

There are isolated cases where at first, it appears an injustice has been done.   Consider this poor slob, who was sentenced to two life sentences for selling LSD.  At first blush, it would appear that the fellow got a bum deal, until you realize that (a) he was selling LSD, (b) he stupidly sold LSD to police officers in one of the oldest setup gags known to mankind (if only he had read my blog!) (c) he turned down a 10 year plea bargain in order to protect his Dad, who was dealing drugs with him, and (d) this was his third offense, so he had been caught before and knew that "three strikes and you're out."

It's not like this guy was blindsided by this.   He had two previous convictions to think about where this was going.  He wasn't some small-time dealer, but a major supplied to the Grateful Dead tour.   Now he is trying go get clemency, but his supporters apparently were doing too many bong hits and forgot to get the clemency petition in on time.   Sort of ironic, no?

Does he deserve life in prison?  Probably not.   Does he deserve prison?  Well, yea.   Because you know that these are not the only crimes he committed,  just the ones he was caught and convicted for.

And that is the problem with criminals.  They like to play on the sympathy of the civilian population by minimizing their own actions.   The cast their own bad acts (as this LSD dealer does) in a good light.  And of course, they don't talk about all the other illegal shit they did, either.

Obama has promised to offer clemency for some offenders - a move that even Fox New applauded.  However, he has yet to sign any large number of clemency petitions.   The reasons for this are varied.   To some, it is a political thing - pardons or clemency petitions might make him look "soft on crime" and he doesn't want approval ratings to drop.  But hey, if Fox News is saying its a good idea, then maybe that isn't an issue.   But I think a greater problem is this:  A lot of people who are incarcerated for drug crimes have other circumstances which make pardoning them or granting clemency problematic.

These folks aren't in jail for possession of an ounce of weed.   They are in for serious crimes - selling meth, coke, heroin, or other hard drugs.   And usually, there are other crimes they have committed, but for one reason or another, cannot be convicted for.   Al Capone was only convicted for tax evasion.   If you look at that in the abstract, you might be convinced he was a "nice guy" and should get a few years in white collar prison, and then maybe parole.  After all, what did he do?  Forget to file tax returns?  That's not so bad, is it?

So it is tough for Obama, because if he pardons someone, it might turn out later that the dude did something awful, and you pardoned him.   You have to be careful.

And these mandatory minimum sentences - people on both sides of the aisle criticize them, but so far no one has moved to rescind them.   What's up with that?   It is political suicide to be "soft on crime" these days.  It would be ironic if a Republican House and Senate passed such a bill, though.

Jerry Brown issued pardons to 105 people who already are out of jail (sort of pointless - it allows them to serve on a jury or get a gun permit, but it doesn't expunge their criminal record).   And after he did this largely meaningless act, he had to rescind one as it turns out the guy was, well, a bad guy.  And the bad guy was a white collar criminal.

So why do we have such a high incarceration rate in this country?   Are we a bad country?  Are we bad people?  Is our judicial system "broken?" 

Maybe.   But I doubt it.   When you read these stories of "injustice" and start to pick away at the edges, you see something else underneath.   You read about some joker sent away forever under the "three strikes" law, and people are all upset.   "He just robbed a liquor store is all!" they say.   But what they don't say is that it was his third offense.   Laws like "three strikes" were enacted because honest people got tired of getting their shit stolen or being mugged, robbed, or held up.   We want to send these people away, and away for good.

What we are saying is this:  Our society is a better place if you are locked up for life, or even a really, really long time.   And no, we don't care about you being rehabilitated or whatever.  We just want you gone, and gone for good.  This isn't vengeance - just getting bad actors out of the way.

In the old West, they would hang people for even trivial offenses - cattle rustling and horse thievery.  Today, we'd call these "property crimes" and not even investigate them.   Back then, people got tired of their shit being stolen.  And they knew if they put someone in jail, they'd be right  out and back at it again.   So they solved the problem by removing that person from the population - permanently.

So why are there so many people in jail in America?   I think in part because we are a free country.   It is hard to get caught, as criminals have so many rights, and the police have to follow an arcane set of procedures in order to even make an arrest - and even more to make a good arrest with a conviction that will stick.   So a lot of crime goes on in our society - much unreported, most unsolved, and even those solved, unconvinced.  And of the convicted, many overturned on appeal.

As explained to me in Criminal Law class, if you commit a crime, there is a very small chance you will be detected.   Even if detected, there is a small chance you will be arrested.  If arrested, a small chance you will be charged.  If charged, a small chance you will be convicted.  If convicted, a good chance your conviction will be overturned on appeal.   As you can see, at each step of the process, the "Dragnet" we use for catching criminals is more like a very loose sieve - with most of the "fish" slipping cleanly through.

This latter point bears mentioning again.  Statistics are hard to come by as the Police don't want to advertise the fact that basically, you can get away with most crimes.    About 1/3 of all murders are unsolved.  If you remove murders by family members and friends, that number would skyrocket (as most murders are committed by someone who knew the victim).  For things like property crimes, it is harder to parse, as most States don't report the number of unsolved crimes.  In Idaho, 79% of all crimes are unsolved, and I don't think Idaho is an outlier - I think it pretty much represents the conviction rate for most property crimes in America.

This means when someone breaks into your home and steals your stuff, odds are, they will never be caught, never be prosecuted, and you will never get your stuff back.   The only upside is, that criminals like these usually commit the same crimes over and over again, so eventually, they may get caught - not for all their crimes, but for at least one.

Still have sympathy for the guy in jail who "just stole some stuff"?   We trivialize this as "just property crime" and then suggest that people get insurance and then file a claim.   But insurance costs money, and the more stuff gets stolen, the higher your rates go.  So in effect, we all pay for these criminals' lifestyles - living large on your booty, with you picking up the tab.

Sorry, but I have to say, let them rot in jail.

It seems that as of late, a large percentage of people in this country are becoming more sympathetic to criminals than the police.   The police are routinely pilloried as bullies and murderers, who just gun down people for no apparent reason.  But again, when you pick apart these stories, they start to unravel rather quickly.   The "unarmed teen" had just robbed a store - his only weapon being his enormous strength and size. The "unarmed grandfather" resisted arrest - and had a record of 30 convictions. These are hardly innocent actors or ordinary citizens.   These are folks who live outside the law and are willing to just take what they want from society which sounds fine and all, until you realize it is you they are taking from.

Part of this stems from America's romantic notions of criminals. We all loved Tony Soprano, breaking hearts and kneecaps, one at a time.  We boo'ed the FBI agents on that show (who were portrayed as uncaring, corrupt, and banal) and cheered Tony as a modern day Robin Hood.   But the reality of the Sopranos of the world (even on the show) is that they exploit people, ruin people, maim people, and kill people with regularity.   Why are we romanticizing this again?

And this is not a new phenomenon.  Back in the 1930's at the height of the depression, people romanticized Bonnie & Clyde, or Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd, and a host of others.  They had colorful names and were "sticking it to the banks" - and gunning down innocent people in the process.

Japan went through this phase with their Yakuza movies. Their form of organized crime largely crippled their banks and the damage is still being felt today. Mafiosa would infiltrate legitimate businesses and strong-arm banks into making loans - which they would  never pay back.  And yes, in crime-free Japan, people who didn't cooperate would be found floating in the river.

I had a run-in with a Japanese mobster once.  It wasn't pretty.  While making a reservation for the JR rail, a heavyset man in a purple suit, with oily curled hair came into the office.  He was missing his pinky.   He started shouting at the reservation agent, who was a young man.  The shouting escalated and the Yakuza man started smashing travel brochure displays and then slapping the young reservation agent right in the face - several times.

I asked the young lady waiting on my what was going on.  "Nothing is going on," she said, smiling.  Loss of face prevented her from even acknowledging the fight in the next booth. Being a foreigner in the country, I wasn't sure what to do or say.  I didn't want to run afoul of the mob - or the Police.   I was appalled that in this "crime-free" country, someone could just come in an assault a customer service rep and get away with it.  With impunity.

The Japanese movie industry made a series of movies that basically glorified the Yakuza - sort of like Godfather in Japan.   And the public ate them up - that is, until they got fed up with the crime and corruption and the corrosive effect organized crime has on society.  Today, Yakuza movies more often than not portray the gangsters as the bad guys.

I just don't get it. Why do film makers glorify criminals?   Why do Hollywood stars have sympathy for convicted murderers?  Why are so many modern musical lyrics all about gang members and the crimes they commit?  Why does the left embrace the culture of criminality?

In part, it is youth. Youth is attracted to crime for the same reason they are attracted to drugs. It is dangerous, edgy, sexy.  Criminals are often thought of as handsome and risk-taking. People - particularly young people - admire how a criminal takes what he wants and doesn't put up with any guff from society.   And this all sounds fun and romantic until they take from you, which happens in short order, as young people are more likely to be victims of crime.

The sad reality is that criminals are not romantic dashing figures.   Most are just incredibly selfish people, if not outright sociopaths.  These are not people stealing a loaf of bread to feed their starving children.   These are folks who just want more and are prepared to take it from others using whatever means available.   They are often not very bright (at least the ones that get caught) and they are often cowards.  They can also be sadistic, cruel, violent, and dangerous. The reality of criminals is anything but romantic or heroic.

So, what's the point of all this?   Well, if you think the police are bad and crooks are good, think about where you are going with this.   Because unless you want to become a criminal yourself, there is little point in embracing or romanticizing this lifestyle.  Listening to music that glorifies crime and watching movies that glorify crime may sound like fun, but these things have a corrosive effect on our society - and your soul.

Because once you go down that road, you are basically programming your brain to think that crime is good, and hard work is for chumps.   In other words, weak thinking.  And weak thinkers never get ahead - for very long, at least.

Being against the Police really doesn't make much sense either.   As I noted before, the success rate in prosecuting criminals is astoundingly low.   If you are murdered by a stranger, odds are, they won't figure out who did it.   If your stuff gets ripped off, they aren't going to catch the bad guy and get your stuff back.  But if you are a regular citizen, the most you have to worry about is getting a speeding ticket, and that ain't gonna happen if you don't speed.

Protesting to protect the rights of robbers and thieves really doesn't make a lot of sense.   The police aren't your enemy.   They have a difficult job to do.   Just because you got a speeding ticket is no reason to take the side of criminals.   Because let me tell you, criminals  aren't on your side.