Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Stupid or lying or... ?

One important way in which I tend to read news and politics differently from a lot of my liberal fellow travelers is I almost never assume that the "other side" is over there on the other side because of simple stupidity or ignorance.  Like the great majority of Americans, I'm kind of stupid and not especially expert in any one thing. I figure most people are pretty much just like me. It follows, then, that if I have read about or have a basic understanding something, then whoever I'm talking to probably knows it as well or better than I do. So it's not incumbent on me to educate anyone.

In public affairs, there usually isn't one "right" answer that can satisfy everyone if only the "stupid other side" would be less stupid.  Political questions are not about finding the most inherently good policy but are instead about what policy choice will benefit whom. So those people on the other side, they're not stupid. They're just full of shit.

Take this peculiar City Council vote yesterday over bail reform, for instance.  
A meeting that started with skepticism about a measure to essentially eliminate bail for nonviolent crimes at New Orleans' Municipal Court boiled over Monday into ill-tempered spats among City Council members and recriminations between advocates seeking to end the practice and judges and bail bondsmen fighting to keep the status quo.

After a Criminal Justice Committee meeting that lasted more than three hours, the measure failed to garner enough support from council members to be formally sent on to the full City Council. However, Councilwoman Susan Guidry, the sponsor of the proposed ordinance, said she planned to bring a revised version back in the future.
Here is the problem Guidry's ordinance is attempting to address.  The jail is a profit center for people whose business depends on collecting ransom for minor offenses. Inevitably this penalizes those who can't afford to pay the ransom.  A recent Vera Institute study showed fourteen percent of the jail population at the time of the survey were there simply because they couldn't afford to be out.
Out of the 451 people in jail who were assessed for risk and given a risk score, 216—or 48 percent—were found to present a low or low-moderate risk. Those 216 people represented 14 percent of the entire jail population.

These low and low-moderate risk arrestees were held in jail because a judge decided they had to pay a financial bond to get out. One-hundred and eighteen of them were held on a $25,000 bail or less, an unaffordable sum to many: New Orleans’s poverty rate is almost twice the national average. Eighty-five percent of people who go through the criminal justice system are too poor to hire a lawyer.

That isn't hard to understand. Guidry made the point again, though, just to be certain everyone heard it.
"We're talking about misdemeanor charges that are nonviolent, and the only people who get stuck in jail before their first appearance are the ones who can't come up with those few hundred dollars," Guidry said. "Are we saying poor people are by their nature more dangerous?"
Which is why, if you take the actions and statements of the councilpersons at face value, you have to conclude that all of them except for CM Guidry, are unbelievably stupid. You might think Jason Williams was so stupid he didn't know what the ordinance said.
Williams said he had concerns the plan would not provide enough scrutiny for those accused of domestic violence, although the ordinance requires they be held until a judge has time to evaluate them, and it could still allow for some kind of bond.

More broadly, he argued that if the city wants to reduce the number of people languishing in jail, it should stop arresting people, rather than changing how bail is treated.

"The real issue here is arresting people who we as a community don't believe should be arrested or detained at all," Williams said, specifically questioning whether the Police Department is abiding by council policies aimed at making sure they are not targeting black residents for arrest.
He certainly has a point about the police department although the two problems are hardly mutually exclusive. He knows this, though. He's just full of shit.

You might also think Stacy Head is so stupid she doesn't understand what a nonviolent crime like those addressed by the ordinance actually is.
Head, who usually is an ally of Guidry, seemed skeptical of the proposal, repeatedly suggesting that something is needed to keep people who are "raping and pillaging" the community in jail. But she later said Guidry's plan could work with some changes to narrow its scope.
She just wanted to say "raping and pillaging" a lot, probably.  Notice, though, that Head ended up supporting the ordinance anyway.  Why? Well we're getting to that. First, take a look at Sheriff Gusman and his pastor friends.  
The financial issue is also a key part of the thrust behind the ordinance, as Guidry and others on the council have sought for years to whittle down the jail population. Sheriff Marlin Gusman has fought against those plans, and a group of pastors who have previously backed him were among those opposing the ordinance Monday.

You might think a lot of these pastors would be sympathetic to the bail reform. It's likely the problem Guidry describes is affecting members of their own flocks in disproportionate numbers. Are they just stupid? Nah.. more likely they're more sensitive to parishioners with money to donate. 

This is from another argument between the Vera Institute and some of these pastors over a pre-trial services program with a similar aim as Guidry's bail reform. 
Stuart was followed at the microphone by the Rev. Tom Watson, the senior pastor at Watson Memorial Teaching Ministries, who complained that Vera got its role screening accused criminals for pre-trial release without competitive bidding.

“That’s unfair and unjust,” Watson said. “I call them carpetbaggers. We have a lot of people who could go to the jails (and screen the defendants) for a lot less.”

A second pastor, the Rev. Joseph Merrill, of New Kingdom Missionary Baptist Church, said it was “nonsense” to have “folks from New York come to try to solve our problem.”

Merrill was followed by bail bondsman Matt Dennis, owner of dennisbonding.com, who said the Vera program “is turning the offender into a victim.” He added, “They’re trying to drive us out of business.”

The pre-trial program represents a financial threat to the bondsmen because the defendants get released without having to post bond.

The back-and-forth comments prompted a response from only one City Council member, Susan Guidry.

Guidry, who chairs the council’s criminal justice committee, said Vera had come to New Orleans in 2007 at the council’s request and was involved in discussions for two years before this year’s program began. She said the Justice Department chose Vera, which is why the program had not been put to through competitive bidding process. “It would be a very big mistake for us to pull the people who have been with the program for two years,” Guidry said. “It’s been a success.”

The Rev. Antoine Barriere, senior pastor at Household of Faith Family Worship Church International, had earlier endorsed Vera’s work before the council, saying the project “was going in the right direction.”

Afterward, in an interview, Barriere said the opposition to Vera surprised him since the critics had just surfaced.

“Now they come in and divide everyone,” Barriere said. “Somebody is connected to somebody who is getting bail bond money.”
Simply put, there's a lot of money in the sleazy business of leveraging the criminal justice system to extract profits from the vulnerable.  Those councilmembers who voted to maintain that system aren't stupid. They're benefiting from it.  Similarly, those who voted to shut it down.. including the reluctant Head despite her "rape and pillage" crowing... aren't benefiting and are jealous of those who are.

None of these actors is stupid. They're all acting rationally.  But none of them is doing anything simply because it's the objectively moral policy choice.

No comments: