Monthly Archives: February 2013

Insufferable and Incorrigible

He’s like just about every other psychopathic criminal I have met, except he is so much worse.

I’m talking, of course, about Jamie Dimon.

That the recipient of so much government largesse answered a question that way (i.e., “That’s why I’m richer than you.”) in public is really all you need to know about why we are where we are in terms of this whole ‘financial crisis’ thing.

If anyone belongs in prison, Dimon does.

And I see Matt Taibbi beat me to the punch on this one:

And the “That’s why I’m richer than you” line is a perfect example of how these guys think. Question: You say two plus two is six, but sir, isn’t it really four? Answer: No, because I have a huge cock. [Unzips.] [Raucous laughter.] That’s really the level these guys think at. If Dimon was reading this joke right now, he wouldn’t even be offended, he’d be flattered, that’s how fucking stupid these people are.

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Important Film

And thanks to the Toronto Star for featuring it on their front page.  In Canada there are still some news editors who have decent ideas about what to report when it’s otherwise a slow news day.

In a nutshell:

Shin Dong-Hyuk was 14 when he heard his mother and his brother plotting their escape from the North Korean prison camp that was the only home he’d ever known.

He had been constantly warned that his role was to work hard and obey orders. One of the orders was to report any family members or friends who were planning to do something against the rules. So he told his teacher about the escape plan.

The outcome: He was forced to witness the public execution of his mother and brother.

 

I’ve said elsewhere that the regime in Tehran is a model of restraint and sanity compared to North Korea, yet the latter actually has nuclear weapons and we seem to be past worrying about it.  Not to mention that the North Korean “leadership” appears to be little better than the most primitive dynastic dictatorships of antiquity, what with the mentally ill Kim Jong-il handing off his seat to his probably mentally ill son.

It’s good to remember occasionally that there are some truly brutal places still existing on earth.  People might argue over whether Iran should be on that list, but there can be no reasonable doubt that North Korea is.

 

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Rochester’s Most Wanted

A 56 year old man for the crimes of Driving While Intoxicated and Aggravated Unlicensed Operation.

This is put forward as a serious news story with no hint that anyone responsible for it thinks it is in any way humorous.

There is no downward limit to how trivial an offense can be to land you on the pages of the local news.  It depends on what kind of news day they are having, and the default is to act as an arm of local law enforcement.  For reasons of self interest.

Meanwhile, we are treated to another story by several “news” outlets:  a convicted rapist – convicted rapist!will be released from prison next month.  Apparently, convicted rapists should never be released from prison, even if they have completed their sentences under the law.

This particular convicted rapist has been in custody since 1995.  That’s roughly 18 years.

Let’s be clear about something:  anyone who thinks that 18 years in prison is a grossly insufficient punishment for rape is irrational.  Anyone who thinks that the opinion that 18 years is enough is a somehow defective opinion is beyond irrational, and into some other territory such as the surreal.

But that is the implication and the message of the “news” story.

Monsters sell, just like horror or slasher movies.  We’d like to think that the press is more responsible than that, but they so consistently show that they aren’t.

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Assigned Roles, “Making A Living” And Lawyer Blinders

As a result of the division of labor, among other things, we all have parts to play in the economy.  We’re responsible for some few things.  Certainly not everything.  Not even everything pertaining to some small component of everything.  If we work on an assembly line we might only be called upon to put a few bolts in an exhaust manifold, a tiny component of a car, which is itself a tiny component of the larger transportation industry, which itself is just one component, albeit a major one, of the developed economy that despite its problems we are still lucky to be a part of.  Even if that means we are a bit less self reliant, manly and ruggedly individual than we used to be.

Nevertheless, it would be fair to say that economically the more a person is responsible for, the more important he or she is seen as being, and the more that person is paid.  Leaving aside for a moment how responsible these people in fact are, this is nevertheless the idea.  The CEO of General Motors is highly compensated compared to the line worker because he is responsible for the whole company, not just a few bolts in a few manifolds.

Of course this is all economics.  Economics is an important subject.  But in civilized countries it has never been thought to be the alpha and omega of guiding or evaluating conduct in society.  I’ve dealt with this elsewhere:  on an economics basis alone you cannot quarrel with Al Capone or other criminals.  If advancing yourself unjustly at the expense of others is seen as par for the course, society will come unglued.

Standing above purely economic concerns stand the professions, probably still the most prominent among which are medicine and law.  I say “purely”.  Because nothing of any significance can be done without financial wherewithal, and that includes medicine and the law, but the professions are not solely about economic concerns.  There is bodily health and healing.  And there is justice.  And these are more like preconditions to having a functioning economy of human beings in the first place, sort of like Kant’s idea that space and time are not really “things” themselves, but rather a priori preconditions for perceiving things in the first place.

But there’s this danger that the members of the professions themselves can forget all that.  If they ever knew it, that is, so few of them having read Kant and all.

From an economics perspective the practice of law is not intelligible.  There are very important things to be done that do not pay; there are relatively unimportant things that do.  Historically – but not now – we often paid lawyers handsomely and gratefully when the occasion presented itself, at least in part because of the former.

But of course maybe it all is economics after all, because implicit in that particular trade-off was a social bargain imposed upon the lawyer:  when the very important but non-paying thing that has to be done comes up, the handsomely paid lawyer had better well do it.  And truth be told many small practices – at least the ones I am familiar with – observe all of this, albeit somewhat haphazardly and informally.  They operate as wealth redistribution agencies with regard to legal services, using the well-paying clients to keep afloat and using any leftover time for needy clients and needful work that doesn’t pay.

Now admittedly this discussion is all a bit academic in real life, because the legal profession as a whole is so corrupted and moribund.  But academic discussions are not entirely without value if they tell you why something is awry, because maybe then you can know what to do about it.  If you can do anything, that is.

If anything can be done, might be a better way of putting it.

In any case, now that we’ve reached the question of knowing what to do, let’s look at this, via Scott Greenfield:

Consider this: Nearly half of those who graduated from law school in 2011 did not quickly find full-time, long-term work as lawyers.

The quoted dean has, to put it mildly, a talent for understatement.  And of course Greenfield is all over it in response:

Quickly? How about not at all. Not long-term. Not short-term. Not slowly. As for the ones who did, how about at salaries that can’t carry the debt-load while feeding themselves, no less their families, or terminal positions that run dry when the case is over, or dead-end positions that will never provide a future?

And of course this is the economic aspect of the problem, to which both the dean and Greenfield are acutely attuned.

But this is a profession, remember?  So when the dean, steeped in academic pettifoggery and tin-eared as he is, points out something else:

Yet the need for legal representation has never been greater. In New Jersey, where I teach law, 99 percent of the 172,000 defendants in landlord-tenant disputes last year lacked legal counsel.

…he’s onto something, isn’t he?  It may seem absurdly focused on system wide professional concerns rather than economic ones, with the “trench lawyer” firmly mired in the latter while the academic remains mired in the former, but the end result is just two lost souls talking past each other.

There is a lot of work that lawyers should be doing.  And it is true that at present it doesn’t pay, so it doesn’t get done.  That doesn’t mean that it will always be that way.

These people need legal help, for example.  Can’t see any money in it for the lawyers, though.  Not in the short term anyway.  But there could be, later on.  It really depends on what judges do.  And a lot of things are like that.

If judges started doing their jobs, which is applying the rules of law even-handedly instead of toadying for the rich and powerful to whom they owe their positions, legal work for the poor would wind up being effective, rewarding and remunerative.  And then there are a lot of lawyers to do the work.

But truth be told, and unfortunately, this idea turns the system on its head.  Independent lawyers, being important components of the system at least inasmuch as the system requires them for credibility, could do that if they tried, but they don’t want to.  They’re concerned with making a living for themselves.  As much as they resent the pecking order that is the real law operating in practice – the government wins, the bank wins, the insurance company wins, the big firm wins – they accept their assigned role and fight those they think are beneath them for the crumbs falling off the table of the higher ups.  It makes them fundamentally no different from those higher ups:  they’re players in the same system, just bit players instead of heavy hitters.

Meanwhile the system to which they all belong is collapsing.  It no longer performs even the most rudimentary function of distinguishing between guilt and innocence, its very raison d’etre.  Yet like some warped petty bureaucracy, this catastrophic flaw is seen as just one among many:

Like the statistics for rape, the statistics for drug offenders are suspect. Ask an AUSA and almost every co-conspirator is a major player. Ask a defendant and they’re just a cog in the wheel. But like those whose concerns are limited to the wrongfully convicted innocent, suggesting the guilty can rot in hell, the Times plays up the low-level offenders angle, even as Judge Gleeson knows better.

So, Judge Gleeson and Scott Greenfield know better.  The wrongfully convicted innocent are one problem with the system, the over long sentences of the guilty are another.  It’s just all one big system making its occasional mistakes and we all play our parts, and as the wizened veterans of the trenches our job is to “fight”:

In the meantime, however, we have judges like John Gleeson, and we do better by continuing to fight, to argue, to persuade, others to appreciate and follow his lead. As long as defendants are prosecuted, we don’t have the luxury of feeling defeated and giving up.

Of course it’s just a coincidence that the “system” we preserve by “fighting” inside of it provides our living.  Or at least for some of us it does.

So let’s get this straight:  you have a branch of the government one of whose primary tasks is to identify and exonerate innocent accused persons that renounces that obligation at the highest levels, suggesting that that task can be punted back to the executive branch because of its power to “pardon”. (See part IV of that brief.  Why does that even have to be argued?)  And besides that, and worse, refuses in practice to apply the rules of law even-handedly across the board while of course claiming the opposite, blatantly favoring certain kinds of litigants such as the government, banks, and insurance companies over everyone else.

And the solution to all this is….”legal practitioners“?

The alternatives to “pie in the sky” solutions can’t entirely consist of fiddling while Rome burns.  A lot of lawyers should take off the blinders.

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Filed under financial crisis, Judicial lying/cheating, Striking lawyers, wrongful convictions

Yet Another Slow News Day

A man allegedly had a gun.  Egad.

No Girl Scout cookies until January 2014.

Some dog treats are being recalled.

Some very ugly men got into a bar fight.

Your watchdog press at work.  I hope you feel well informed.

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Another Slow News Day

Some lady is charged with stealing some swimsuits from Walmart.  I’m not kidding.  This is an actual reported “news” story, with a mugshot and everything.

But an even bigger story – I mean, headlining the whole crop of Important Things We Need To Know Today- was that a man was caught by police burglarizing an auto repair shop.  In Penfield.

When there isn’t anything else to report, or at any rate they can’t think of anything “worth” reporting even though there’s a ton of stuff *, this is what they resort to:  the obsequious exercise of parroting the narrative of the powers that be.  This is done day in and day out, year after year.

It promotes lazy minds and thinking, and then those lazy minds vote and sit on juries.

This media habit is a deceptively large part of the problem.

*  N.B.  Local (and national) media reported almost nothing about the astounding linked episode, not because it didn’t demonstrably happen but because it was outside the approved narrative and no “official” would confirm it for them.  Disturbingly, attorneys are not regarded as “officials” unless they are prosecutors or hold some other government paid position, but police officers are regarded as officials.

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Christopher Dorner And Other Monsters Of Our Creation (Updated)

Of course, killing the daughter of your enemy is a barbaric act, with no moral or legal justification.  For that matter, setting out to kill anyone is wrong, or at least so fraught with cloudy moral calculation that it should be avoided, pretty much  at all costs.

The problem is, we don’t really believe either of those things.  We collectively kill all the time, under claim of right, through the actions of our government both here and elsewhere.  We say one thing and do another.  It isn’t nuts to notice; it’s nuts not to.

It should not be surprising at all that the Dorner episode resonates among the disaffected.  Declaring war and identifying your targets in advance has an air of honor to it.  It’s still wrong, but it’s not the same as the sick, random murderous rampages we have seen too much of in recent months.

Comparisons to, say, Ted Bundy are unjust, odious, intellectually dishonest and a disservice to the truth.  There are meaningful distinctions to be made, and they should be made.  Telling the man whose truck he was hijacking:  “I don’t want to hurt you, take your dog and walk away.” distinguishes Dorner from the purely maniacal and sadistic, and glossing over that is a form of lying.

But the media are not “truth vigilantes”, they just spin it in their usual fashion.  One wonders if they will ever tire of referring to any written explanation by some high profile but officially unapproved killer as “rambling” or a “rant”, adjectives that could just as easily be directed at the State of the Union Address but never are.

The reporting of these kinds of events is so heavy-handedly skewed in exactly the same way, every single time, that the reporting itself has become part of the narrative of these events.  It would be tiresome, except for the tragedy that real people are suffering real harm and even getting really, really killed.

That, and also that it helps set the stage for the next one.  Because for even remotely thoughtful people, the hyper-spinning of such events precisely so as to take serious moral reasoning off the table is transparent.  What occurs in the end is the very unsatisfying result that those with superior manpower and weaponry prevail, tell the story they want told and all official mouthpieces go along.  Dissent is not permitted.  The truth of the matter counts for nothing.

In other words, the episode has been a grotesque exercise in power worship both by Dorner and by the official response, which included deliberately incinerating Dorner in the end, and then lying about that.  The two sides have been almost morally indistinguishable in the willingness to use violence to prevail.

But in truth telling, the edge would definitely go to Dorner.

The next monster has probably already taken note:  it’s all about who has power over whom.  That’s what we are teaching, and we reap what we sow.

Update:  Indeed, the LAPD now figures to welch on the supposed reward money.  Are they actually trying to make their late and erstwhile nemesis look comparatively good?

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