June 13th, 2013

A Purple Straw Hat

Welcome to Politics Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, 2013 edition

In good news, it looks like we're winding down the IRS thing. I kind of liked that scandal, because it caused me to read Rossotti's book about the last scandal, which was, honestly, a lot more scandalous. Otherwise, the current scandal was a bit of a yawn, except the parts that I wish weren't legal (all that SuperPAC stuff that Colbert had so much fun with).

Also in good news, we blew right past the filibuster on debating immigration reform. Hard to know whether we'll really pass anything, much less what it will look like when it does pass, but it sure would be nice if we could do something. The current state of the law feels increasingly untenable.

Starting around Memorial Day and winding up around Labor Day, a whole lot of sensible people who are hard workers and in charge of making sure things run right get very involved in their private lives: the regular term of school is winding up, parenting demands during summer can be high, there's vacations to go on, moves to implement, etc. Other people step up and do the work, but their judgment is less well-honed and many of them are young and/or ambitious and here's their chance to Show Their Stuff. I cannot help but feel that's part of why we got the coverage we got of Prism, from the papers we got it from.

I feel like a lot of things have gotten all jumbled up together. As an increasingly not-so-young society, we remember, personally, further into the past. As an increasingly well-educated and well-informed society, we have quick, detailed access to how horribly things have gone wrong in the past. It's hard to hear someone make a bunch of claims about secret government access to private communications and not reach down into the memory hole and go, see? They've done it before!!! At the same time that someone, somewhere might be listening to us, we're presented with indictments based on DNA evidence when we don't know who the DNA belongs to yet, and an okay at the highest level for collecting DNA as part of booking procedures. We know where detailed tracking has gone in the past, and those steel rails to a well-landscaped death camp can inspire horror long after virtually all of the perpetrators are dead.

But we are not a society deciding who lives and who dies based on racial coding. We are collecting DNA from reported crimes: violent ones like rape and murder, and repeated property crimes as well. Modern police methods are making it obvious that there are a small number of repeat offenders out there who, if you can stop them, are not instantly replaced -- you can virtually stop car theft in an area, at least for months if not years if you can nab the right guys. Nor are we a society which is engaging in political and other forms of blackmail based on stigmatized sexual orientation. Our laws, increasingly, accurately reflect our values. And those values have a greater coherence now than any time in living memory. In my childhood, a lot of people still thought it justifiable to murder a spouse and that person's lover if caught in the act. We don't think that way any more. Before I was born, but in my parents' memory, drinking before killing someone with a car was considered a mitigating factor.

Not Any More.

We have fewer rules, in many ways, than we did in the past (in other ways, of course, many, many more -- but few of those are attached to jail time). I think if an enforcement technology is effective and can be managed to mitigate impact on the innocent (be conservative about what is collected, make sure it is purged, oversee the program, wind it down if it ceases to be effective, etc.) AND that technology is deployed in a way that reflects our collective values, we should try to calm down about issues like OMG!!! THEY ARE WATCHING US WITH ROBOTS!!! WHERE! MIGHT! THIS! LEAD!

However, it is after Memorial Day and before Labor Day, so this could be a bit of a slog briefing everyone until they understand what's going on and why they can sit down and have a cup of tea and breathe a deep sigh of relief, or perhaps disappointment, because our names won't be going down in history with whoever that was that released the Pentagon Papers.

ETA: Also, can we please have more red light/stop sign cameras and speed cameras?

ETAYA: There will be further edits.

http://www.suffolkdistrictattorney.com/press-office/press-releases/press-releases-2010/high-court-okays-use-of-%E2%80%9Cjohn-doe%E2%80%9D-dna-indictments/

Took the old DNA, cleared the guy wrongfully convicted, looked for the real perpetrator in CODIS, didn't find him, eventually arrested him for something else and convicted him. I certainly like this outcome and hope it can be replicated.

http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2013/04/unidentified_mans_dna_is_indic.html

Indicting a DNA profile to "stop the clock" on statute of limitations for a rape case -- of a 13 year old, if I read this correctly. (R. and I think there shouldn't be statute of limitations for rape, but that's not necessarily relevant to my point here. Also, the circumstances under which they closed that case previously are a little horrifying.) New York has been doing this for a while, but it's really starting to spread now, possibly in response to the recent Supreme Court decision. There are some concerns that a lot of the DNA information is getting built up in local databases and not shared nationally, primarily because there is some concern that the stringent rules developed for the national databases don't apply at the local level. I am, as yet, uncertain whether I think that's more or less important than the potential additional utility of having more people in the database and having them known-local. I think time will present us with useful experience.

Apparently the purpose of the name on an indictment is to "identify with reasonable certainty" -- I'm a little surprised anyone could question whether a DNA profile would accomplish this. The sample would have to be really shitty to _not_ accomplish identification, right? I'm still trying to understand the purpose of the statute of limitations.

Names on warrants and/or indictments also are intended to provide "notice" -- to let the person know they have been accused of something, which a DNA profile would not seem obviously to accomplish.