Posts tagged ‘Clint Eastwood’

Private Justice and the New Vigilantism of the Left

In the 1970's, Hollywood produced a number of movies that drew from a frustration that the criminal justice system was broken.   Specifically, a surprisingly large number of people felt that due process protections of accused criminals had gone too far, and were causing police and prosecutors to lose the war on crime.  In the Dirty Harry movies, Clint Eastwood is constantly fighting against what are portrayed as soft-hearted Liberal protections of criminals.  In the Death Wish movies, Charles Bronson's character goes further, acting as a private vigilante meeting out well-deserved justice on criminals the system can't seem to catch.

There are always folks who do not understand and accept the design of our criminal justice system.  Every system that makes judgments has type I and type II errors.  In the justice system, type I errors are those that decide an innocent person is guilty and type II errors are those that decide a guilty person is not guilty.  While there are reforms that reduce both types of errors, at the margin improvements that reduce type I errors tend to increase type II errors and vice versa.

Given this tradeoff, a system designer has to choose which type of error he or she is willing to live with.  And in criminal justice the rule has always been to reduce type I errors (conviction of the innocent) even if this increases type II errors (letting the guilty go free).

And this leads to the historic friction -- people see the type II errors, the guilty going free, and want to do something about it.  But they forget, or perhaps don't care, that for each change that puts more of the guilty in jail, more innocent people will go to jail too.  Movies cheat on this, by showing you the criminal committing the crimes, so you know without a doubt they are guilty.  But in the real world, no one has this certainty.  Even with supposed witnesses.  A lot of men, most of them black, in the south have been put to death with witness testimony and then later exonerated when it was too late.

This 1970's style desire for private justice to substitute for a justice system that was seen as too soft on crime was mainly a feature of the Right.  Today, however, calls for private justice seem to most often come from the Left.

It is amazing how much women's groups and the Left today remind me of the Dirty Harry Right of the 1970's.  They fear an epidemic of crime against women, egged on by a few prominent folks who exaggerate crime statistics to instill fear for political purposes.  In this environment of fear, they see the criminal justice system as failing women, doing little to bring rapist men to justice or change their behavior  (though today the supposed reason for this injustice is Right-wing patriarchy rather than Left-wing bleeding heartism).

Observe the controversies around prosecution of campus sexual assaults and the bruhaha around the video of Ray Rice hitting a woman in an elevator.  In both cases, these crimes are typically the purview of the criminal justice system.  However, it is clear that the Left has given up on the criminal justice system with all its "protections" of the accused.  Look at the Ray Rice case -- when outrage flared for not having a strong enough punishment, it was all aimed at the NFL.  There was a New Jersey state prosecutor that had allowed Rice into a pre-trial diversion program based on his lack of a criminal record, but no one on the Left even bothered with him.  They knew the prosecutor had to follow the law.   When it comes to campus sexual assault, no one on the Left seems to be calling for more police action.  They are demanding that college administrators with no background in criminal investigation or law create shadow judiciary systems instead.

The goal is to get out of the legally constrained criminal justice system and into a more lawless private environment. This allows:

  • A complete rewrite in the rules of evidence and of guilt and innocence.  At the behest of Women's groups, the Department of Justice and the state of California have re-written criminal procedure and required preponderance of the evidence (rather than beyond a reasonable doubt) conviction standards for sexual assault on campus.   Defendants in sexual assault cases on campus are stripped of their traditional legal rights to a lawyer, to see all evidence in advance, to face their accuser, to cross-examine witnesses, etc. etc.  It is the exact same kind of rules of criminal procedure that Dirty Harry and Paul Kersey would have applauded.  Unacknowledged is the inevitable growth of Type I errors (punishing the innocent) that are sure to result.  Do the proponents not understand this tradeoff?  Or, just like the archetypal southern sheriff believed vis a vis blacks, do women's groups assume that the convicted male "must be guilty of something".
  • Much harsher punishments.   As a first offender, even without pre-trial diversion, Ray Rice was unlikely to get much more than some probation and perhaps a few months of jail time.  But the NFL, as his employer (and a monopoly to boot) has a far higher ability to punish him.  By banning Ray Rice from the league, effectively for life, they have put a harsh life sentence on the man (and ironically on the victim, his wife).  They have imposed a fine on him of tens of millions of dollars.

Postscript:  For those who are younger and may not have experienced these movies, here is the IMDB summary of Death Wish

Open-minded architect Paul Kersey returns to New York City from vacationing with his wife, feeling on top of the world. At the office, his cynical coworker gives him the welcome-back with a warning on the rising crime rate. But Paul, a bleeding-heart liberal, thinks of crime as being caused by poverty. However his coworker's ranting proves to be more than true when Paul's wife is killed and his daughter is raped in his own apartment. The police have no reliable leads and his overly sensitive son-in-law only exacerbates Paul's feeling of hopelessness. He is now facing the reality that the police can't be everywhere at once. Out of sympathy his boss gives him an assignment in sunny Arizona where Paul gets a taste of the Old West ideals. He returns to New York with a compromised view on muggers...

I guess I was premature in portraying these movies as mainly a product of the 1970s, since this movie just came out.

Inevitably necessary note on private property rights:  The NFL and private colleges have every right to hire and fire and eject students for any reasons they want as long as those rules and conditions were clear when players and students joined those organizations.  Of course, they are subject to mockery if we think the rules or their execution deserve it.  Public colleges are a different matter, and mandates by Federal and State governments even more so.  Government institutions are supposed to follow the Constitution and the law, offering equal protection and due process.

OMG! Why Didn't We Fully Fund the Government Tiger-Catching Agency?

This via Q&O:

Earlier today, New York Times columnist Nick Kristoff opined on Twitter about cuts in government services. It’s not every day that you see such stupidity displayed so confidently…except from the Left:

Imagine John Boehner home in OH, seeing an escaped tiger–and getting a msg that help is unavailable due to govt cutbacks.

Well, I don’t know about John Boehner. But I do know that if I received such a message, it’d be because I was trying to call up a government flunky to haul a tiger carcass away. And if I did get such a message, my very next call would be to a good taxidermist.

It’s an interesting glimpse into the worldview though. The unspoken assumption is that, without government tiger hunters, we’re all doomed to be mauled by wild beasts. Presumably, this is because we are all tiny, little children, utterly incapable of solving our problems without the intervention of our benevolent government overlords. It’s a worldview that operates on the assumption that the government is the only adult in the room.

A great example of this sort of mentality was the Bruce Willis action filmLive Free or Die Hard.  The movie was a decent thriller, falling into the unlikely-buddy-movie genre (including also 48 Hours and most of the Lethal Weapon movies).

Like most modern techno-thrillers, it required a lot of technical suspension of belief, but what really struck me was the premise -- that somehow, if terrorists were able to really shut down the government, people would go into a panic and be totally lost and forlorn.  Even the strong male hero buys into the premise.  Can you even imagine a Clint Eastwood movie where Clint laments how scared Americans will be if they were to call the FDA to inquire if a certain product is truly organic and no one answered the phone?   It makes for a sort of irony in the movie because in fact the government is completely useless in the face of the terrorists, who are brought down essentially by a few private individuals.

I know he's an American citizen but still

The title is from a quote by Representative Peter King, lamenting that the Feds might actually have the gall to Mirandize an American citizen who has been arrested.

Miranda warnings are not actually required per se, but statements by un-Mirandized suspects will generally be tossed out of court.  So I think the whole Miranda thing is overblown, but Representative King's words tend to summarize for me the slippery slope of civil rights exceptions.  Someday, you too may be the "but still."

On top of Mr. King's statement and our local Sheriff's continuing proclivity to walk into businesses and zip-tie everyone with brown skin until they can produce birth certifications  (yes, he did it again last month and again the other day) comes Joe Lieberman's new bit of law and order paranoia.  Apparently, after watching a 24-hour festival of 1970's Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson crime dramas, Lieberman proposed:

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Scott Brown (R-MA), joined on the House side by Reps. Jason Altmire (D-PA) and Charlie Dent (R-PA), today introduced a little publicity stunt in legislative form called the Terrorist Expatriation Act, making good on Lieberman's pledge to find a way to strip the citizenship of Americans"”whether naturalized or native born"”who are suspected of aiding terrorist groups. It does so by amending the Immigration and Nationality Act, which lays out the various conditions under which a person may renounce or be deprived of citizenship....

Finally, note that the bill's definition of "material support" for terrorist groups explicitly invokes the criminal statute covering such actions.  Which is to say, revocation of citizenship under the new bill is triggered by committing a particular federal crime. Except that the Immigration and Nationality Act only requires that one of the predicates for revocation be established by a "preponderance of the evidence." So in effect, the bill takes what is already a crime and says: Proof of guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" is no longer a prerequisite for the imposition of punishment for this crime.

"Preponderance of the evidence" is the same standard under which McDonald's lost several million dollars because its coffee was too hot.

My Only Oscar Comment

Yeah, I watched the Oscars, though I seldom find them entertaining any more.  My wife and I were able to attend about 20 years ago (the year Clint Eastwood won for Unforgiven) and go to the Governor's Ball afterward so we have a certain nostalgia for the event.    Only one image really sticks with me, and it was before the show.  It was an image of George Clooney high-fiving his fans, but doing it separated by a chain link fence.  Even the President still greets the public in person from time to time.  To me, it was a brutal caricature of a Hollywood actor trying to pretend he is engaging with the common man but utterly failing to do so.

The Older I Get...

It used to be said that it was the young who distrusted police and authority, while as people aged they became more conservative and comfortable with authority and the police, ostensibly because they had more wealth and position to protect.  Al Franken had a sketch on SNL where he explicitly poked fun at this, saying something like "when I was young, I opposed the draft, but now that I am over draft age, I support the draft to protect me, Al Franken... etc. etc."

Oddly enough, I have had exactly the opposite progression.  In high school I was a police-loving, authority trusting, border-closing little conservative, cheering on Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson in 1970's movies where loan heroes fight against the degradation of police departments by civil libertarian pinko bleeding hearts.

The older I get, and the more experience I gain, the less I trust any authority and in particular the less I trust police officers who are given the power to use force and the authority to cover up its misuse.  Yet another good example.  So Dirty Harry and Death Wish have been replaced in my favorites list by the Wire.

Chris Rock and the Academy Awards

Maybe it was just having really low expectations, but I thought Rock was OK last night, though conservative bloggers seemed to have hated the broadcast.  Sure some of the stuff they did flopped (the skit with Adam Sandler comes to mind) but he was moderately funny and while he made fun of a number of people, he was pretty equal-opportunity about it.  And anyone who gets Sean Penn all huffy can't be all bad.  Sure the show may have less gravitas than when Carson hosted it, but compare it to where shows like the Grammy's have gone and it looks like Masterpiece Theater.  And if people want to talk about whether Rock was "serious" enough for the event, they should focus some attention on Al Pacino showing up looking like a homeless person or on Dustin Hoffman trying to present the Best Picture award drunk off his ass.

Other Notes:

  • Was the show producer sleeping with Beyoncé, or was she the only singer available?  Why did we see her three times?  And did all of the songs seem to be totally unmemorable or what?
  • The women's dresses were generally awsome, while their hair generally looked awful (or at least just dull, which is the same for a Hollywood-type).  I loved the return of those sort-of mermaid-shaped dresses.
  • Jamie Foxx was the highlight
  • Seeing Clint Eastwood with his young wife was an inspiration for all of us over-40 males.  Seeing his mom there was even more of an inspiration.