Friday, April 4, 2014

AAG West: 'Just So You Understand Where I'm Coming From'

There's an event in New York City going on right now called the "Strengthening the Relationship Between Law Enforcement and Communities of Color Forum." I don't know much about it, other than the NYPD could stand to learn a lot about how to deal with minorities fairly, so it sounds like a good idea, at least.

Today, Associate Attorney General Tony West gave a speech there in support of a new federal program to study ways to improve how law enforcement deals with persons of color. And while I know better than to endorse any government program solely based on its conceptual framework--let alone a loose framework laid out in a speech--I did want to highlight parts of the speech I think is important.
I come to this discussion as one who has been privileged to work with law enforcement for most of my career -- for several years as a federal prosecutor in a U.S. Attorney's Office; as a lawyer in the California Attorney General's Office; and now as part of the United States Justice Department's leadership. That experience has left me both profoundly grateful for and humbled by the dedication and commitment of so many in law enforcement who serve to keep our communities safer places to live, to work and to play; and who do so with integrity and in compliance with the law.

Theirs is not an easy task, and their duties are often performed under difficult and dangerous circumstances. And the reality for most officers, I believe, is that policing is not a job; it's an honor and profession. It's about service. It's about promoting safety and security and fostering strong neighborhoods for the residents who live there.

I also come to this discussion as my father's son. He was a man born and raised deep in the Jim Crow south. And when the time came for his eldest child and only son to take up driving lessons, dad was my teacher, imparting all the familiar lessons of keeping my eyes on the road and signaling before I turned.

And then there were the lessons not found in any driver's manual; lessons informed by family history and community experience: When -- not if -- you are pulled over by the police for no ostensible reason, keep your hands visibly planted at 10 and 2 until instructed otherwise. Always ask permission before reaching for your license and registration, and even then verbally explain what you're doing. No quick movements. End every sentence with "sir." Speak only when spoken to and never, ever talk back. 

Dad called these "survival skills," and I put them into practice on more than a few occasions, well into adulthood. I suspect that I'm not alone in bringing such divergent, perhaps even conflicting, perspectives to today's discussion.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

AFF Poverty Roundtable: Follow-Up

I'd like to again thank AFF for hosting the poverty roundtable last night. It was a great opportunity for me, not only to give my views, but to hear what other organizations are doing on poverty, and how this will play out on the Right going forward. A special thank you to Lori Sanders of the R Street Institute for organizing the panel and inviting me to speak.

I'd like to congratulate my co-panelists for a good discussion on how the Right can move forward on poverty issues: Elise Amyx of IFWE, Brandon Smith of Fed Soc, and Brad Wassink of AEI.

I have excerpted parts of my comments below. I didn't give them verbatim, but this should paint a decent enough picture of what I think the role of policymakers should be as we look to take on the root causes of cyclical poverty.

My primary area of interest is criminal justice. When discussing criminal justice reform, there are two key components to think about: “Front end” reforms deal with policing, alternatives to incarceration (like drug courts), and revisiting laws on the books. “Back end” reforms deal with early release, mental health support, and job training after incarceration. If you look at the reforms being discussed among policymakers today, they are concentrating primarily on back end reforms.
There is a lot of talk about “reentry programs,” like regularizing punishments for parole violations, reducing collateral consequences like housing and employment restrictions, and providing mental health assistance, all in effort to decrease recidivism. These ideas are particularly salient today because more than 10,000 people per week—and more than 650,000 per year—are released from jail or prison into society. A large number of these people will be concentrated in economically depressed neighborhoods with little or no infrastructure to support them—further burdening those areas with more unemployed people looking for work and seniors with no one to care for them.

These programs are important, but they don’t go far enough. None of the back-end solutions address the fundamental problem at the front end: The way in which the government treats the people hanging onto the lowest rung of society is a travesty across the board.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Hey DCers: AFF Roundtable on Poverty

I'll be part of a roundtable hosted by America's Future Foundation tomorrow, Feb. 25, at Wise Public Affairs here in DC. The topic is, broadly, how the political Right should tackle poverty 50 years after LBJ declared War on Poverty. I'll be talking about how criminal justice reform may alleviate poverty, which is rapidly becoming a bi-partisan issue (and that's a good thing!). It's free for AFF members, $5 for non-members. Oh, and there'll be booze.

My friend R.J. Lehmann put a nice piece up on the R Street blog that sets the table for the event. You can register for the event here.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Thursday, February 20, 2014

My Minimum Wage Skepticism

I'm not an economist. My preference for free markets is based on a lot of reading, but I'm not a quant guy and I'm not going to pretend I can predict what exactly will happen if the minimum wage is increased to $10.10 per hour.

But if we go on the CBO projection, these things should happen (via Josh Barro):

CBO estimates the proposal (raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10) would:
  1. Raise wages for 16 million workers making under $10.10 and millions more making slightly above that,
  2. Increase family income by $2 billion overall and $17 billion for people earning less than three times the poverty line (about $72,000 for a family of four),
  3. Lift 900,000 people out of poverty, and
  4. Reduce employment by 500,000.
So of course our discussion is focusing around the employment number.
Another reason I like free markets is that I'm generally uneasy with directing policy to create winners and losers, so yes, I'm going to focus on the employment number.

The reason I think this is important is because certain segments of our population already suffer disproportionate unemployment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in January 2014, the white unemployment rate was 5.7 percent; the Hispanic rate was 8.4 percent; and black unemployment was 12.1 percent. Blacks have had double digit unemployment every month since July 2008, and Hispanics had double digit unemployment for 45 out of the 46 months between January 2009 and October 2012.  White people, on the other hand, haven't been in double-digit unemployment during any point in or since the Great Recession.

This isn't to say there should be more whites unemployed or that we should enact policies to even this out--just that, when economic crunches happen, they hurt blacks and Latinos more. So when we're talking about a net loss of half a million jobs, and those losses can predictably (but not certainly) fall disproportionately on minorities already suffering from higher unemployment, I think it's OK to ask whether it's fair to help a lot of people at their expense thereby widening the gap in inequality.

It's a value judgment, and my value system favors more employment rather than less and not implementing policies that further punish the already disadvantaged, when at all possible. Good people can think the gain for the people who will benefit outweighs the suffering of others, if only because it helps more people than it hurts, but I'm not one of them. Whether it is race or gender or whatever, manipulating free exchange of labor destroys economic opportunities, most likely for those whom society has already marginalized.

 There are a lot of things we can do to half a million people that would make lives better for many others, but that doesn't make it right or fair to do them.

 bellum medicamenti delenda est

Friday, January 31, 2014

Bill Maher's Noble Attempt to 'Corrupt' Democracy

According to the New York Times, longtime comedian, talk show host, and Citizens United critic Bill Maher has decided he wants to enter “into the exciting world of outright meddling with the political process.” His plan, apparently, is to pick a ridiculous member of Congress who faces a competitive race in the coming November election…and make him or her lose.

Personally, I think this may be the noblest pursuit ever undertaken by a talking head—unseating incumbent politicians is something to which all Americans can and should aspire. Mr. Maher has the cachet, financial resources, and—it’s been said—humor to literally ridicule someone out of office. Ain’t democracy grand?

The project — which the show is calling the “flip the district” campaign — is intended to get real results, said Scott Carter, the show’s executive producer. Among the criteria for selecting a representative, other than some degree of outrageousness in statements or voting record, is that the member be in a truly competitive race. Those running unopposed will not be selected, no matter how egregious the show’s fans may claim them to be.

There is one small problem, however. Mr. Maher wants to unseat this unlucky representative of the people by using his television show and stand-up act as a platform to run his anti-whomever campaign. Even though he has pledged no money or direct coordination with the challenger-beneficiary of his actions, his independent expenditures—implicitly linked to the corporation he works for, Time Warner’s HBO, by the explicit participation of his show’s executive producer and the presumed use of the show’s budget—necessarily implicate corruption.

Friday, January 24, 2014

SDNY's Judge Rakoff: 'Scrap the Sentencing Guidelines'

The Southern District of New York, a federal judicial district known for the ambition and pedigree of U.S. and Assistant U.S. Attorneys who have practiced there, is, among all courts, not one at all hostile to prosecutors. Yet, Senior SDNY Judge Jed Rakoff--himself a former prosecuting attorney in the Southern District--has written a short paper which aims to curtail the power of all federal prosecutors.

In the article---based on a speech delivered in early 2013--Judge Rakoff explains how the effort to make federal sentences less disparate and less harsh in fact developed a tool for prosecutors to ratchet up sentences and severely punish individuals for exercising their constitutional right to jury trial. If you care at all about how the federal judicial system (dys)functions, I cannot recommend this paper  (JSTOR, pdf) highly enough. It's only four pages and isn't laden with legal jargon so anyone who reads this blog should have no problems understanding it it.

Via Sentencing Law and Policy

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Jay Smooth on Moving the Racial Conversation Forward

Yesterday, I spent too many words explaining why concentrating on individual racism, while important, obscures the larger problems with race and society. Jay Smooth just released an excellent video breaking down the same thing, much more succinctly. I highly recommend it.

bellum medicamenti delenda est