Wednesday, December 27, 2006


The U.S. Supreme Court in 1992 and in 1993 ruled that state laws establishing hate crimes could be constitutional. Because of these rulings, a crime of murder, for example, becomes worse if the murderer hates the victim. The ruling apparently assumes that some murderers are friendly chaps.

And the law can also be applied against a person who is found innocent of the alleged crime, but is found guilty of the hate that motivated the non-crime. Duh? In other words, thoughts can be illegal -- you can be sent to the pokey because you hate me even though you have not been found guilty of hurting me.

Most states now have hate crime laws that have been carefully tailored to meet the politically correct tests that were imposed by the above-mentioned Supreme Court decisions. The People’s Republic of Massachusetts, of course, is a leader in this respect with its hate crime laws that cover race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and, presumably, the eating of sweet pickles.

When a crime motivated by hate is committed, it is true that hate speech is often the most important match that ignited the deed. We see that example every day in the Middle East where endemic killing is fed by huge daily doses of hate speech in the media and, most importantly, in mosques. Young Muslims do not emerge from the womb as killers-to-be any more than do young Americans or Jews. But after years of hearing hate speech they look at Americans and Jews with hatred so instinctive that it needs only the slightest excuse to explode into an orgy of killing.

But because hate speech can have such terrible consequences does that mean that it should be criminalized even when no provable criminal act took place? Apparently the answer to that is yes and no. It all depends upon who is doing the hating.

For example, the Congressional Black Caucus concluded its four-day, 35th Annual Legislative Conference in Washington on September 25, 2005. In addition to the members of the black Caucus, Democratic Senators Clinton (NY) and Obama (IL) attended and heard (and did not disassociate themselves from) the remarks of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) who, among other things, said that President Bush is the modern day version of Bull Connor (the poster-boy bigot from Birmingham, Alabama, who in 1963 turned a fire hose and attack dogs loose on a black protest march led by Martin Luther King, Jr.), and that being poor and black in the United States is “not an inconvenience – it’s a death sentence.”

Rangel conveniently overlooked the fact that Bull Connor, two of the most racist governors of the time, Wallace (AL) and Maddox (GA), and Senator Robert Byrd (W. VA – with a Klu Klux Klan background) were all Democrats, or that the Civil Rights Act that gave political life to blacks would not have passed if Democrats of the day had their way.

Rangel is a demagogue and a hypocrite. And the congressional leaders who, by their silence, accepted Rangel’s distorted opinions regarding America and its president share his guilt. Hundreds at the conference heard Rangel’s remarks plus, according to Caucus leaders, another 100,000 over a live Web cast. Millions more became aware of his comments through the general media. Young blacks are listening to such demagogues – and reacting.

Rangel and others have peddled racism for 40 years. He and his ilk are a powerful deterrent to the progress of the people that they allegedly represent because they feed their trusting constituents a steady diet of hate speech. And they are living insults to those who have through their taxes have spent billions to assist black Americans and who, through their generosity, are doing the same today in the hurricane-battered cities of the Gulf of Mexico.

But Rangel and other America-hating left wingers are not accused of hate speech. How come?


"Civil liberties" perversions in Australia

Last week the Victorian Court of Appeal ordered a retrial of Jack Thomas on terror charges. The judges found the interview Thomas gave to ABC television's Four Corners could be used in evidence, as it potentially incriminated him. But here's the bizarre part. A number of civil libertarians were reported as being appalled at the ABC for showing the interview. "They must have known they shouldn't do it," said a past president of Liberty Victoria.

In reading this reaction I was reminded of the contrary opinions of the great English legal and moral philosopher Jeremy Bentham. This is the man who was largely responsible for the first Reform Bill of 1832 that vastly expanded the voting system; Bentham lobbied for such a broadening of the democratic base for many years. He also pushed for prison reform and was a progenitor of the John Howard Society (that's the prison reform group named after the long-dead Brit, not a fan club of the Prime Minister).

Bentham, who lived from 1748 to 1832, also played an important role in advancing the cause of women's voting rights. But my point is only this: Bentham had impeccable 18th-century reformist credentials in all sorts of important areas that affected real people. And yet he had a near pathological dislike, indeed loathing, of what we today would call civil libertarians.

Here's how Bentham saw it. This crowd of people forget that criminal trials are basically about getting at the truth. What is needed is a way to determine if an accused person actually did what the police are accusing him of. So relevance and truth are the key factors in any set of procedures. Yes, we'd all be better off opting to have a system that deliberately lets 10 or even 100 guilty persons go free rather than convicting one innocent person. That's why, contrary to the way newspapers often portray things, a not-guilty verdict does not in any way equate to an innocent verdict. Many guilty people are acquitted. It's the price we all willingly pay to keep the innocent out of jail, as much as is practically possible. But notice how you can admit all that and still believe that the point of a criminal procedure system is basically to find out the truth. That's certainly how Bentham saw it.

The problem with the civil libertarian mind-set is that any desire to find the truth -- to convict people who actually did what they are accused of -- seems to get brushed aside in the headlong rush after moral abstractions. Bentham caustically portrayed such thinking as a sort of fox-hunting game. Their goal, he said, was to ensure convicting accused criminals resembled a jolly good day of hunting. That means you can't catch too many. You'll need lots of irrelevant rules which will be sure to trip up the police on occasion, to make sure a few foxes get away. And you want to make sure these rules don't have anything much to do with determining guilt or innocence. The goal is always to keep the game nice and entertaining, with a fox here and there slipping away for the sake of the game itself.

Bentham went further. He saw the mind-set that, say, would exclude evidence when it clearly and undoubtedly points to guilt as part of a typical lawyer's world view, one where a person can be earning a huge salary and yet see himself as doing God's work. It's fox-hunting without any blood on one's hands; nice work if you can get it.

Now let's go back to Thomas. He either did or did not accept cash from al-Qa'ida. If he did not, or if the jury has a reasonable doubt he did not, then he should be acquitted. But if it is clear that Thomas did what he is accused of, then how, precisely, is there any injustice done if this is proved through his own words on an interview he freely gave to the ABC?

There is no obvious rationale for saying our criminal procedures should ensure the stupid don't get convicted. Nor are there any immediate grounds Lfor saying that the press should cover up admissions. Even if the ABC had promised not to show the interview until after the trial, I cannot see why that should stop the police from forcing the public broadcaster to hand over the tapes of the interview.

Confessions are sometimes suspect because we know as a matter of experience that innocent people sometimes confess to things they did not do. In other words, we're worried about the truth of the confession and fear coercion and pressure. We only should accept a confession after it's plain the confessor is telling the truth. But those civil libertarians last week weren't worried about truth. They were worried about the conduct of the ABC (not an obvious candidate for Right-wing monster organisation, truth be told). And they worried about Thomas's legal representation. You see, a smart person wouldn't have admitted anything, and so a smart lawyer would have ensured he shut up.

And so on and so forth. Not one iota of concern for whether the system works reasonably well in getting at the truth and actually takes off the streets dangerous people who do bad things: some of whom, luckily for all of us, are just plain dumb. Maybe Liberty Victoria should have its members read a little Bentham.


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