Who Will Hold Weinstein’s Lawyers To Account?

Harvey Weinstein tried to rape Rowena Chiu, a Miramax assistant, twenty one years ago after evaluating scripts with her in a Venice hotel. Chiu, who has a degree from Oxford in English Literature can write, so she tells a lucid and harrowing story that details how Weinstein, and others like him if we extrapolate, wreak havoc on their victims’ lives.

Props to you for getting this far in the post.

But will you take the 7-8 minutes required to read her story or is it too unpleasant a topic for a fall weekend? Are you giving in to a MeToo malaise? I hope not, women who have suffered sexual abuse deserve much better. And given the intense silencing of victims that Chiu details, we’re really just getting started understanding the breadth and depth of the problem.

Chiu reflects:

“I’ve had many years to ruminate on how I fell into Harvey’s trap, and the best way to understand it is through the four power dynamics of gender, race, seniority and wealth.”

Power over. Power over. Power over. Power over.

I shudder to think Weinstein may leverage his immense wealth to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison. In the U.S. we talk sporadically about growing inequality, but not nearly enough about how that growing inequality creates two distinct judicial systems.

Granted, our legal system depends upon everyone receiving a robust defense when charged with a crime, but what about before then, how is it okay for lawyers to enable monsters to continue committing crimes indiscriminately by strong arming victims into non-disclosure agreements? Why can’t we go after those attorneys and get them disbarred for moral turpitude? It’s not enough to ask “How do they sleep at night?”

The Power Of Language

If the San Fransisco Board of Supervisors have their way, the words “felon,” “offender,” “convict,” “addict” and “juvenile delinquent” will be part of the past in official San Francisco parlance under their new “person first” language guidelines.

“Going forward, what was once called a convicted felon or an offender released from jail will be a ‘formerly incarcerated person,’ or a ‘justice-involved’ person or simply a ‘returning resident.’

Parolees and people on criminal probation will be referred to as a ‘person on parole,’ or ‘person under supervision.’

A juvenile ‘delinquent’ will become a ‘young person with justice system involvement,’ or a ‘young person impacted by the juvenile justice system.’

And drug addicts or substance abusers will become ‘a person with a history of substance use.'”

Cue the protestations of political correctness. The intent, however, is quite noble. Matt Haney, one of the Supervisors says, “We don’t want people to be forever labeled for the worst things that they have done.” Imminently sensible.

Tyler Cowen has a concern worthy of serious consideration:

“. . . here is my worry.  It is we who decide how powerful language is going to be.  The more we regulate language, the more we communicate a social consensus that it has great power.  And in return the more actual power we grant to those linguistic ‘slips’ and infelicities which remain.  It is better to use norms to regulate the very worst speech terms, but not all of them.  By regulating too many parts of speech, and injecting speech with too much power, we actually grant more influence to the people and ideas we are trying to stop.”

My worry is different. I fear the proposals open the floodgate to an unprecedented wordiness. Case in point, from the San Fransisco Chronicle article:

“The language resolution makes no mention of terms for victims of crime, but using the new terminology someone whose car has been broken into could well be: ‘A person who has come in contact with a returning resident who was involved with the justice system and who is currently under supervision with a history of substance use.'”

If that level of wordiness becomes the new normal, I will not survive this world for long.

Michael Cohen’s Decision

From Frank Bowman in Slate:

“Cohen has a lot more he could give. The government knows that. They want to crack him. Moreover, even on the stuff he’s given them so far, he is a less valuable witness so long as he refuses to be fully candid. They are tired of playing his coy little game, and political considerations require speed. So they’ve accelerated sentencing, and set up a classic “good cop – bad cop” squeeze. New York has told the judge to hammer Cohen. By contrast, Mueller looks like a generous friend. Cohen—who like every white collar criminal I’ve ever known is undoubtedly scared silly of going to prison—is facing 4-5 years (and, not improbably, a good deal more if the judge is impatient with his recalcitrance). This crystallizes his choices. Either he quits fiddling around or he goes to the Big House for a long while.

Moreover, an immediate sentencing forces Cohen to make up his mind fast. If he wants to avoid a sentencing in which the Southern District of New York is calling for his head, he has to act within the next few days—his sentencing hearing is scheduled to go ahead on Wednesday. Alternatively, if he gambles and goes ahead with the sentencing and the judge hammers him, there is still one escape hatch. If he decides post-sentencing to open up and cooperate fully, the court could reduce its original sentence, but only if the government makes a special motion to allow that and only if he provides substantial assistance to the government within one year of the original sentence.

In short, the government has just put a ticking clock in front of Michael Cohen. He can’t filibuster anymore. Either he spills his guts or he goes to prison. And the time to decide is right now.”

Puts my indecision about which Christmas tree into perspective.

We Have Lost the War on Drugs

So says Vermont’s Governor, Peter Shumlin. And it’s impossible to argue with his conclusion. Last week Shumlin dedicated all 34 minutes of his annual State of the State speech to what he described as Vermont’s “full blown heroin crisis”. Here’s a nine minute long PBS NewsHour segment on Shumlin’s speech. “In every corner of our state,” Shumlin said, “heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us.” Most of what follows are excerpts from the New York Times coverage of Shumlin’s speech.

Sumlin wants to reframe the public debate to encourage officials to respond to addiction as “a chronic disease, with treatment and support, rather than with only punishment and incarceration.” “The time has come for us to stop quietly averting our eyes from the growing heroin addiction in our front yards,” Governor Shumlin said, “while we fear and fight treatment facilities in our backyards.”

Last year, he said, nearly twice as many Vermonters died from heroin overdoses as the year before. While it may be acute in Vermont, it is not isolated. In the past few years, officials have reported a surge in the use of heroin in New England, with a sharp rise in overdoses and deaths, as well as robberies and other crimes common among addicts. Those same statistics are being replicated across the country. Lawmakers in virtually every state are introducing legislation in response to what is rapidly being perceived as a public health crisis.

“The Centers for Disease Control and most national experts agree there’s an epidemic of drug overdose deaths in America,” Dr. Harry L. Chen, Vermont’s health commissioner, said in an interview. He said the rate of overdose deaths across the country had tripled since 1990.

“Nationwide, more people die of drug overdoses than from motor vehicle crashes,” he said. And nearly 80 percent of inmates in the state are jailed on drug-related charges. The governor made a plea for more money for treatment programs, noting that incarcerating a person for a week costs the state $1,120, while a week of treatment at a state-financed center costs $123.

Mr. Shumlin also wants to encourage discussions on ways to prevent addiction in the first place. He is providing a grant for a team that made a documentary film on heroin addiction titled, “The Hungry Heart”, to visit every high school in the state.

I learned of Shumlin’s bold speech shortly after reading an essay titled, “A Mission Gone Wrong” by Mattathias Schwartz in the January 6, 2014 New Yorker. I highly recommended Schwartz’s piece. He thoughtfully weaves several decades of US drug policy throughout the story of a recent joint US-Honduran drug mission gone horribly wrong. Long story short, it is impossible to limit the global supply of drugs. The only way to minimize their impact is to somehow reduce demand.

Upon finishing Schwartz’s engaging and depressing history lesson, I concluded that our national drug policy isn’t just the least effective of all our government’s domestic and foreign policies, but it has been the least effective for decades. I like to give our government the benefit of the doubt, meaning I assume most government workers are rational; we learn from our mistakes; and consequently, our policies gradually improve over time. None of those assumptions hold when it comes to the War on Drugs. Our policies are irrational and unchanging. As a result, the negative outcomes are totally predictable.

 

Crime is Plunging

Thirty one summers ago, I spent ten weeks in inner city Boston interning at a Christian housing ministry. I spent two days a week as a day camp counselor at a park and two others working at a food bank. Every Wednesday, the eleven other interns and I attended seminars about urban issues. The most memorable one featured a retired South Boston high school principal who was one of the central figures in the 70s busing riots.

The first night, my fellow interns selected me “Most Likely to Get Mugged.” Fast forward to mid-summer when I was walking home from the food bank to the subway station through a dicey part of Jamaica Plains. Clean cut suburban dude with a college backpack, I may as well had a “Jump me!” sign on it. Stupidly, I walked right through a large, open fire hydrant water fight.

I realized the girlfriends were watching from a large porch far too late. Now. I’m. Screwed. A few of the young men, as if to fulfill my fellow interns’ prophecy, sprinted towards me, at which point, I did my best Carl Lewis impersonation. The only problem was I ran right into the heart of a tenement building courtyard. I’m still not sure how I got out of there and onto the subway in one piece. Maybe I should have been a punt returner.

According to The Economist, America’s cities have become vastly safer, and the rest of the developed world has followed. “From Japan to Estonia,” they report, “property and people are now safer than at almost any time since the 1970s.” Some highlights:

• Confounding expectations, the recession has not interrupted the downward trend. New data show the homicide rate for young Americans is at a 30-year low.

• Some crimes have all but died out. Last year there were just 69 armed robberies of banks, post offices, and other buildings in England and Wales, compared with 500 a year in the 1990s. In 1990 some 147,000 cars were stolen in New York. Last year fewer than 10,000 were.

• There is no single cause of the decline; rather, several have coincided. Western societies are growing older, and most crimes are committed by young men. Policing has improved greatly in recent decades, especially in big cities such as New York and London, with forces using computers to analyze the incidence of crime; in some parts of Manhattan this helped to reduce the robbery rate by over 95%. The epidemics of crack cocaine and heroin appear to have burnt out.

• The biggest factor may be simply that security measures have improved. Car immobilizers have killed joyriding; bullet proof screens, security guards, and marked money have all but done in bank robbery. Alarms, DNA databases, closed circuit television cameras, and security tags have increased the chance a burglar will be caught. Every survey of criminals shows, the main deterrent to crime is the fear of being caught.

• One in every hundred American adults is now in prison. If tough prison sentences were the cause, crime would not be falling in the Netherlands and Germany, which have reduced their prison populations. New York’s prison population has fallen by a quarter since 1999, yet its crime rate has dropped faster than that of many other cities.

• Harsh punishments, and in particular long mandatory sentences for certain crimes, look counterproductive. American prisons are full of old men (in CA more than 20% of inmates are over 50), many of whom are well past their criminal years, and non-violent drug users, who would be better off in treatment. To keep each California prisoner inside costs taxpayers $47,000 a year.

• Because prison stresses punishment rather than rehabilitation, most of what remains of the crime problem is really a recidivism issue. In England and Wales, for example, the number of first-time offenders has fallen by 44% since 2007. The number with more than 15 convictions has risen.

• Politicians seems to have grasped this. In America the number of new mandatory sentences enacted by Congress has fallen. Even in the Republican South, governors such as Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal have adopted policies favoring treatment over imprisonment for drug users.

• Better trained police officers could focus on new crimes. Traditional measures tend not include financial crimes such as credit-card fraud or tax evasion. Since these are seldom properly recorded, they have not contributed to the great fall in crime. As policing adapts to the technological age, it is as well to remember that criminals are doing so, too.

And The Atlantic Cities in a report titled “You’re More Likely to Die a Violent Death in Rural American Than in a City” details interesting findings from a large University of Pennsylvania study. Highlights:

• You’re about twice as likely to die in a car crash in rural America than in the most urban counties.

• Nationwide, the rate of “unintentional-injury death”—car crashes, drownings, falls, machinery accidents and the like—is about 15x the rate of homicide death. Add together all the ways in which you might die prematurely by intentional or unintentional injury (as opposed to illness), and your risk of death is actually about 22% higher in most rural counties in the America than in the most urban ones.

• Across the whole population, the top three causes of death were motor vehicle crashes, firearms, and poisoning. Motor vehicle crashes lead to 27.61 deaths per 100,000 people in the most rural counties and just 10.58 per 100,000 in the most urban.