community Service means Business!
9 January 2010
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8 January 2010
Mazur checks out the year's best female acting and offers up a mostly alternative opinion to the boring Oscar-begging consensus picks including some you might not have heard about, yet.
With something approaching fifty years of economic and crime statistics consistently disproving any correlation between recessions and crime, not to mention the last 12 months of terrible economic news coupled with still-dropping crime rates, you’d think journalists might finally start questioning their knee-jerk pronouncements about “lack of opportunity” being the primary motivation for unlawful behavior.
But they won’t. Journalists simply can’t, I think, let go of the idea that young people (males, mostly) commit crime primarily because they are being unjustly deprived of economic opportunity. To let that idea go would result in nothing less than the catastrophic collapse of a myth on which rests perhaps a fifth or more of the emotional underpinnings of the fourth estate. It would require shifting culpability for criminal behavior from society at large, where journalists and policymakers are comfortable placing it, onto individuals who commit crimes (and in many cases their families and immediate communities, but no farther).
With the exception of some big city newsrooms, however, the rest of the world is moving on. Journalists who cling to the disproved crime-economy calibration are even starting to sound out of step with many crime experts, and not just conservative think tank ones like Heather Mac Donald who have long argued against “root theories” of crime. Even James Allen Fox of Northeastern University was quoted this week denying the correlation between recession and crime:
Prof. Fox said a common assumption that crime goes up during a recession is wrong. Historic data show there is little connection between economic conditions and crime, particularly violent crime.
Then again, this was an article in the Wall Street Journal. Almost exactly a year ago, in a now-widely derided editorial, the New York Times drew a very different inference from Fox’s statements on the economy:
Federal and state programs that are supposed to provide jobs, services and counseling have been poorly financed for years. They are likely to suffer further as cash-strapped states look for ways to save money. The timing couldn’t be worse.
Fewer jobs programs are going to equal more crime, the Times cried. They continued:
A new study by James Alan Fox and Marc Swatt of Northeastern University suggests that violent crime among young people may be rising, that the much-talked-about reduction in the crime rate in the 1990s may be over, and that much more must be done to prevent young people from succumbing to the gang culture. The study also shows that the murder rate for black teenagers has climbed noticeably since 2000 while the rate for young whites has scarcely changed on the whole and, in some places, has actually declined. While more financing for local police would be useful, programs aimed at providing jobs and social services are far more important.
The inconsistency here is not Fox’s: he was calling for varied interventions, including policing. But the Times is simply incapable of acknowledging the role of policing and incarceration in lowering crime rates. They can’t stop chanting “jobs or crime,” even though economic and crime trends in the 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s, and now 2000’s utterly belie that claim. Only one thing will stop crime, they insist (hysterically, it’s fair to say):
[T]he economic crisis has clearly created the conditions for more crime and more gangs — among hopeless, jobless young men in the inner cities. Once these young men become entangled in the criminal justice system, they are typically marginalized and shut out of the job market for life. President-elect Barack Obama’s administration and Congress will need to address the youth crisis as part of the country’s deep economic crisis. That means reviving the federal summer jobs programs that ran successfully for more than 30 years.
Ah yes, summer jobs programs. The single biggest graft incubator and inner-city political corruption cash cow since the mafia tipped its first garbage pail. Start a riot and burn down all the legitimate businesses in your neighborhood? Get a jobs program. Serial killer on the loose? Get a jobs program. Fiscal conservatives take over Washington? Get a jobs program to sop mayoral nerves. Big government liberals take over Washington? Jobs programs, jobs programs, jobs programs.
After years of observing jobs programs in Atlanta, which is an epicenter of such things, I came to the conclusion that jobs programs themselves are a cause of crime, and not just the proximate crimes that arise directly from the grants-giving process, like kickbacks, or pay for play, or just plain stealing, though such graft is not inconsequential. Beyond the immediate larceny, jobs programs grow a culture of extreme political corruption. They bankroll the most crooked, on-the-make actors in city and county politics, many of whom started out on the jobs side of community outreach and resurfaced a few years later peddling substandard mortgages and community redevelopment scams, scams that contributed mightily to the current economic crisis. When a critical mass of community leaders are on the make, when political appointees like chiefs of police are chosen by people who are themselves on the make, you get a culture where crime flourishes.
I’m no statistician, but somebody who is could probably create a nice chart correlating jobs program dollars with indictments for political corruption: in Atlanta, that chart would prominently feature former Mayor Bill Campbell, who built both his indictable inner circle and his “get out the vote” muscle on such programs, most notably the hundreds of millions of dollars in squandered and pilfered “empowerment zone” monies. Hundreds of millions of dollars buys a lot of bad actors, large and small, from the “community activists” who can be relied on to squeal and grandstand for a few thousand bucks, to the classes who expect a few hundred thousand in contracts for their spouses and children in return for political cover. These people didn’t care that some neighborhoods in the city were ringing with gunfire: that sound was merely cha-ching in their pockets as they held out their hands and Washington filled them with money.
Atlanta’s worst years, while crime skyrocketed and the mayor and his cronies ransacked city government, only came to an end after the jobs program money ran out, and chastened city leaders had to cope with the hangover. And with this reality: jobs programs don’t create jobs: they create programs. Once the grant money runs out, or, more likely, gets pocketed, there’s nothing left in its place.
The crack epidemic ended the same way: things got crazier and crazier and crazier until people burned out, or they went to jail and cleaned up their acts, or they died, and those who survived were more cautious not to go down that path again.
This time around, positive results are occurring in cities where police and courts, or the public, or all three engage in tactics that can be broadly named “broken windows” policing. A neighborhood group that patrols its own streets and takes on vandalism and abandoned buildings and shows up in court to testify is engaging in broken windows policing, even if the police aren’t officially involved and the judiciary is still dragging its heels. Atlanta is the best example of that happening at the community level — while New York, Los Angeles, and Orlando are proving the effectiveness of the “broken windows” theory directly through their police and courts.
In contrast, cities that continue to do things the “old way,” and, not incidentally, are still mired in the same old political culture — Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago — still have high homicide rates, give or take a few points.
I don’t know what, if anything, will “tip” the current pockets of high-crime, inner-city culture away from self-destruction this time. But empowering two-bit political hacks by handing them wads of money for fictional “jobs programs” will just make things worse.
No matter what the editorial board at the New York Times believes.
Click below: NPR’s Talk of the Nation 1/6/2010
Here’s a trailer for the DVD release of a new documentary that details the life and times of real life Baltimore kingpin Avon Barksdale, the man on whom the infamous character from The Wire was based.
Hit the jump for the full press release.
(New York, NY)- E1 Music is excited to announce the release of The Avon Barksdale Story- Legends Of The Unwired – in March 2010. This gripping film won Best Docudrama at this year’s NY International Independent Film & Video Festival and reveals the raw truth about death, drugs, and violence in the streets of Baltimore, MD. In The Avon Barksdale Story, the real Nathan Avon “Bodie” Barksdale tells all to actor Wood Harris, who played his on screen character in HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire.
The Wire was based on the lives of real gangsters. The Avon Barksdale Story is the first to chronicle the actual lives of these real people. Barksdale’s real name, Nathan Avon Barksdale, and his nickname, “Bodie,” were both used in the series as composite characters. Avon Barksdale was The Wire’s first season’s central character. The storyline focused on the Barksdale clan and their ruthless hold on Baltimore’s underworld and the intense efforts of law enforcement to stop them. Barksdale was a real crime figure in Baltimore.
Barksdale says he consulted David Simon, the creator of The Wire, during the early filming of the highly successful mini-series. He says, “The Wire was one long commercial for this!”
During the drug wars of the ‘80s, long before The Wire’s drug kingpin Avon Barksdale entered the mind of David Simon, a young man (named Nathan Avon “Bodie” Barksdale) was in the belly of one of the most violent neighborhoods on Baltimore’s Westside. The Lexington Terrace Projects was one of the most notorious areas in the city making it the perfect backdrop for HBO’s The Wire. But unlike David Simon, an admitted outsider, this story possesses the intimate detailing which can only come from an insider’s view. The real Barksdale brings the riveting fact-filled account of his world now known as The Avon Barksdale Story – Legends of the Unwired. A must see story for all true fans of The Wire!
7 January 2010
St. Paul is hanging out the "welcome" sign for squatters. An article in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, meant to illustrate how bad the problem really is, makes occupying an abandoned home sound mighty appealing.
"I can almost guarantee you that there are at least 1,000 homes available to squat in," says St. Paul's vacant buildings manager, sounding more like a representative from the Visitor's Bureau. In fact, the number of empty buildings in St. Paul, most of which are homes, jumped from 372 at the end of 2004 to more than 2,000 by 2009, according to the newspaper.
Take this home: "custom-built, 2,600-square-foot house near Battle Creek Park ... splendid, a beautiful combination of blond brickwork, glass blocks and fresh paint ... handsome split-level ... two fireplaces ... sprawling backyard, where deer regularly roam." Sounds lovely. Until recently it was home to squatters who didn't even bother to use the tanning bed in the home's exercise room.
One housing inspector told a story about a homeowner who returned to Nigeria when his house was foreclosed on. The new owner, a bank headquartered states away, wouldn't return her calls. Meanwhile, a woman had moved into the home and was living comfortably, with house plants and an ab workout machine, for six months before the inspector convinced the electric and water companies to shut off services.
Across town, a man appointed himself the landlord of an abandoned six-unit building and actually collected rent checks from other residents. Not a bad gig, if you can get it.
"If the grass is cut and there's not trash collecting in the yard and we're not getting nuisance complaints, we wouldn't know about it," said a city employee. Is that a promise?
Back when the economy was flush, President Bush (yes, that President Bush) started the “prisoner re-entry” ball rolling with $330 million dollars in federal funding to go for housing, drug rehab, jobs, and various therapies for ex-cons. But now that we are a year into record unemployment for non-ex-cons, should the federal government still be offering tax breaks as a reward for hiring people with criminal records?
With one in ten people (probably more) unemployed, should committing a crime give people a leg up over other job applicants?
Consider one state with a (relatively) good financial outlook, Kansas. 24,000 people are on the unemployment roll in Kansas: the unemployment rate, around 6%, is far better than in many other places. But the state has also lost 60,000 jobs since last November. Nevertheless, taxpayers in Kansas seeking work are still subsidizing tax breaks for businesses who choose ex-cons over law-abiding job seekers.
Amazingly, the federal program offering tax breaks for hiring offenders even provides employers with “free insurance to protect them against losses including by theft, forgery or embezzlement.” You know, for when the rehabilitation doesn’t take.
I’m all for offering offenders the chance to clean up in prison: who wouldn’t be? But A.A. and N.A. programs cost nothing to run or attend, in or out of jail. There also seems to be no shortage of naive (often religious) volunteers eager to teach offenders how to dress right for a job interview.
But the minute there’s grant money involved, expect wrap-around freebies for “clients” and zero accountability regarding whether a single dime spent does any good at all. Here is a description of some of Kansas’ federal tax-funded re-entry expenditures, from a March 2009 article in U.S.A. Today:
In a hushed conference room overlooking the town’s main drag, eight convicted felons, including an aspiring amateur fighter, brandish bright Crayola markers. Their goal is to match their personalities to one of four colors. Tim Witte, 27, on probation for evading arrest, eyes the task as if sizing up a fellow middle-weight on Kansas’ gritty cage-fighting circuit. Witte and two drug offenders settle on orange. The color, indicative of a restless, risk-taking personality, is the hue of choice for most offenders, says Michelle Stephenson, the corrections officer leading the unusual exercise. . . Probation officers now help offenders find work, health care, housing, counseling, transportation and child care. During the past several months, for example, the office spent $110 to cover an offender’s utility payments; $500 for a rent payment; $600 for six bikes the office loans to get to job interviews; $77 for a YMCA membership to help an offender improve his physical condition and $320 for eight anger-management counseling sessions.
The coloring class, gym memberships, et. al. are part of a gamble the state is taking with violent felons. In an effort to cut costs, ex-cons are assigned to community-based “behavior modification” classes rather than being returned to prison for parole violations. So that guy breaking into your garage might just get sent to art class, instead of back to prison.
Gee, who needs an anger management class now?
Does any of this busywork actually rehabilitate criminals? Or are the few successes held forth for the press just the people who would have gotten their act together anyway? Even if the overseers of these programs weren’t utterly unreliable reporters, thanks to their nearly universal anti-incarceration ethos, there’s really no way to know.
For when states simultaneously set up crayola workshops for felons and instruct parole officers to send fewer violators back to prison and send the word down to prosecutors that more cases should be pleaded away, there are a million ways to make the results look good. With layers of politicians and government workers and non-profits, there’s always somebody willing to point at the crayon box and declare (for a fee, of course) that the patient has been cured.
Well, except for this guy. According to Kansas offender records, he absconded some time after U.S.A. Today introduced us to him in his coloring class.
Not in Kansas anymore?
5 January 2010
thanx for your timexxx
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- Check out this site I found on StumbleUpon!
- what i haven't seen
- Do Jobs Programs Cause Crime?
- what to do...what to do?
- what brings us together
- Video: The Avon Barksdale Story (Trailer)
- Burger Perfecto!
- Visit Beautiful St. Paul, Squatters!
- On the Other Hand...
- Trouble Accepting
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