Monday, February 21, 2011

Prisons, Politics, and Prisons

The Jackson Citizen Patriot, in Friday's editorial, seems to herald a demise of politics in the prison debate. It points to Governor Snyder's efforts to restructure Michigan's parole board as proof. Not so fast. (Taking politics out of the prison system is like taking the sweet out of honey.)

When it comes to the prison debate, it is all politics - whether it is decisions driven by budget concerns, public safety, or issues of human rights.

Politics, simply put, is the art of influencing and guiding governmental policy. There are good politics and bad politics, which should not be confused with honest politics and dishonest politics. Each has its niche - they can stand alone, or they can metastasize into one. For instance, dishonest politics can be good politics, but only in the short run. Regardless, there is never "no" politics when it comes to prisons.

Governor Snyder justifies downsizing the parole board by saying, "A smaller parole board makes sense because there are fewer inmates who are eligible for release." (According to recent CAPP statistics, there are 10015 inmates in Michigan's prisons who are eligible for release. Snyder makes it sound like - thanks to Granholm's parole boards - there are only hundreds.)

That, folks, is politics - the kind that misleads the public into thinking the government has exhausted a reservoir that truly has barely been tapped.

The Citizen Patriot then contrasts prisoner releases for purposes of cutting the budget to those based upon thoughtful policy, as though they cannot be one and the same. Of course, they can be. (Since when is cutting an over-sized budget not "thoughtful"?)

Michigan's parole process founders on a faulty premise, which helps to make it inherently unjust. First, it seems convinced that all inmates, once released, will commit the same crimes again. (The B&E will commit B&E's, the drug dealer will deal drugs, the murderer will murder.) So, they must only return prisoners to their communities whose crimes can be more easily absorbed.

All crimes are threat to public's sense of well being. If you assume that all criminals will repeat their offenses - and that is your basis for holding them as long as legally possible - then let no one go until you have squeezed every possible minute of out of all of them. Of course, that will not save a single community. (There are two million men in America's prisons. If you could execute them all today, 30 years from now, there would be two million men in America's prisons).

Certainly, there are inmates in Michigan's prison who are incorrigible. But the State must not pretend to not know who those men are as a precept for treating them all as if they were. Painting with such a broad brush punishes entire families out of unfounded prejudice.

The prison debate is a complex mix of rights, laws, and budgets. There are many victims: people who are directly (and indirectly) affected by crimes, school budgets that become victims of prison budgets, even criminals, themselves, who become victim when, after endless "flops", their parents and children languish in endless despair.

Politics are with us, for better or for worse. Within the prison debate, those politics must be good and honest. How else to insure lasting justice for all?

Monday, February 7, 2011

The WikiLeaks "Dump": Peoples' Boon, Governments' Bane

Julian Assange and he crew at WikiLeaks has the "goods": on Russian prime ministers, Lockerbie bombers, American diplomats, and Saudi kings.

For instance: Noting that the rich in Saudi Arabia are the No. 1 financier of Al Quaeda, WikiLeaks reveals that the Saudi King wants America to "cut off the head of the snake" (Iran), as though Iran were Al Quaeda's chief benefactor. (Can't do their own "wet work", I suppose.) Multiply such tidbits as that by thousands, and you get a glimpse of WikiLeaks' offering to the world. For that, Assange has been hunted as though he were Dracula, and has been accused of everything from terrorism to treason. (America is quick to demand transperancy of other nations. When we have it thrust upon us, we cry "foul!")

Shortly after the WikiLeaks "dump", Assange was arrested on rape charges...again. Sweden had dismissed thosw same charges against Assange back in August 2010. Now, they have been conveniently revived (as a favor to the U.S.?). It reeks of more fodder for WikiLeaks.

Assange has exposed the world's leaders like they have never been exposed before. and Amercian news correspondents are besife themselves. (If only they were the least bit inscrutable.) Hypocrites to the core, they excoriate Assange - the good Americans that they are - even as they struggle to contain their giddiness at the mother lode of "scoops" he has laid at their feet.

This trove of information is not an attack on Americans (as it has been portrayed.) Neither is it an attack on the Saudis, the Chinese, nor the good citizens of the European Union. Rather, Assange has pulled back the curtain on the corrupt duplicitous officials of those nations; he has laid bare governments whose lies to their people are systemic, and deadly. In one fell swoop, Assange has provided the people of the world with what their governments dare not: the truth.

So far, none of the WikiLeaks intelligence is in dispute. Despite threats to "bring Assange to justice," according to Fox legal analyst, Judge Napolitano, "The publisher of truthful information is immune to prosecution."

America's Newt Gingrich, nonetheless, calls Assange's acts "treasonous." Treason? Assange is an Australian. Until Australia's prime minister declares him a traitor - which she has not - New casts his bucket down a dry well.

California's Senator Feinstein wants to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act. Passed in 1917, that law was considered by many judicial scholars to be unconstitutional then. Invoking so shadowy an act now would create a mess - casting a pall over newspapers and journalists who have already disseminated many of the "juicier" WikiLeaks tidbits out of pure fascination.
Rather than recoil from this intelligence bonanza, Americans should embrace it. The right of the people to know is the cornerstone of all working democracies. Feinstein and others would leave us dumb, and privy to only what they want us to know, (which is usually what suits their purposes).

But we are not children. We are taxpayers - we are bosses! Most of all, we are the parents who send our children to fight our governments' wars. We deserve the truth. Contrary to what our governments think of us, we can handle the truth. The question is, "Can they?"

The central element to all human relationships is trust. Assange's critics assert that "governments must have their secrets." I ask, "Why must they?" Secrets foster mistrust - not only between nations, but between peoples and their governments.

Maybe it is time for the world's leaders to try something new - like dealing above board for a change. You say you don't like WikiLeaks, then stop lying and cheating and stealing. You will put WikiLeaks out of business overnight.