Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Bubble Collapses, The Police State Expands (Quick Update)

I want to thank Jerri Lynn Ward for inviting me on her program "I Object! Justice Examined" to discuss (along with Dr. Herb Titus) the right to keep and bear arms. Those interested in listening can hear the program on Right Talk radio; click on Miss Ward's icon at the bottom of the page. The program will re-start at five past the hour for the next day, and will be available as a podcast after 7:00 PM this evening. As you listen, please bear in mind that I am, once again, battling a bad chest cold -- so I hope the coughing and sniffling aren't an insuperable distraction!

Abandoned personal effects were piled on the lawn of this foreclosed home in Colorado's Adams County. The Sheriff's Department emptied the house and changed the locks.

With the Dow peaking above 13,000, the most observers direct their gaze skyward as they wonder how much higher the market can climb. Few are taking the time to examine the market's decayed and crumbling foundation, as they wonder how soon the structure will collapse.

The market is not built on rock or even on sand, but rather perched precariously atop the housing/mortgage/refinancing bubble the Federal Reserve so diligently inflated during the first half of the decade. Wall Street's necromancers have transmuted debt into “wealth” by creating exotic financing mechanisms to encourage mortgage lending to dubiously qualified – or entirely unqualified – home buyers, and then securitizing those loans for investors. This scam – like many others -- works fine as long as the housing bubble continues to expand.

Now that the bubble has burst, defaults and foreclosures on “sub-prime” mortgages are mounting. Hundreds of thousands of families have lost their homes; neighborhoods and communities are being ravaged; and municipal governments face what could be called “gentrification in reverse” -- the creation of vacant, deteriorating urban areas that become magnets for crime.

The last to suffer will be those who most richly deserve to – the Fed-allied financial interests who have facilitated the entire scam by luring people into unmanageable debt.

In Cleveland, reported the New York Times on March 23, “Hundreds of houses are vacant because they are caught in legal limbo, have been abandoned by distant banks or the owners cannot find buyers.” In suburban Euclid “more than 600 houses have gone through foreclosure or started the process, many of them the homes of elderly people who refinanced with low two-year teaser rates, then saw their payments grow by 50 percent or more.”

Euclid's city government, which claims an annual property tax shortfall of $750,000 from the vacant houses, has hired new building inspectors and has taken out a $1 million loan to pay for “rehabilitation, demolition, and lawn care at the foreclosed houses.” The city anticipates recovering those costs through tax assessments when the renovated buildings are sold.

What if, in an ever-softening real estate market, they don't sell?

Well ... the one constant here, from the municipal government's perspective, is the need for more revenue. So homeowners who have kept up with their mortgages, or own their homes outright (as opposed to renting them from the bank, which is what a mortgage amounts to), will see their taxes go up – dramatically, I'll bet.

I suspect this process is behind yesterday's (April 25) USA Today headline: “Property taxes up as house prices fall.” The story explains that despite the housing downturn, “the market value of millions of homes still exceeds their assessed value used for tax purposes.” Many homeowners are caught in an interesting predicament: The value of their homes hasn't declined quickly and steeply enough to help them avoid a tax increase, or an abatement in their taxes corresponding to the reduction in their equity.

To get a tax cut,” comments Dan Goodwin, a tax assessor for California's Ventura County, “you have to buy a home at the peak and have it lose value quickly. You can't enjoy double-digit increases in you home value and then expect a tax cut when the market dips.”

Well, why not? With household budgets already under stress from increases in non-discretionary spending – food, energy, and housing – why can't county governments bite the bullet and take in a little less?

There are countless ways to answer that question, but they can all be easily digested into this simple proposition: County governments have constituencies to feed, and they have Sheriff's Departments to command.

So you pay what they tell you to pay, or wind up like the Sundsmos.

A rising tide lifts all boats, and (to alter the metaphor) a collapsing nation-wide real estate bubble is likely to drag everybody down – beginning with those who are trying to get out of mortgages they can't afford to pay.

As an earlier USA Today story pointed out, foreclosures on sub-prime mortgages depress housing values in entire neighborhoods. “Why pay full price for my house when you can pick up a foreclosure for $30,000 or $40,000 less?” asks Dannice Clark, a postal worker from Atlanta who is trying to sell her home.

Among those who are seeing their equity evaporate, warns Dan Immergluck of the Georgia Institute of Technology, are homeowners who qualified for interest-only mortgages, which are poised to re-set. “I'm concerned that could really tip some of these middle- and upper-income neighborhoods, in terms of high foreclosure rates,” Immergluck warns.

In Georgia' Gwinett County, as in Ohio, Michigan, and elsewhere, many abandoned homes have been neglected by the banks or other lending institutions that own them. Some of them quickly fall prey to vandalism, or attract squatters. This, in turn, leads to an increased police presence, often carried out by “Quality Of Life” (QOL) units, who are tasked to enforce building codes and ordinances dealing with graffiti and vagrancy.

The creation of QOL patrols was inspired by the “broken window” premise -- that is, a broken window, littered sidewalk, or unattended home "sends a signal" that a neighborhood is fair game for reprobates. One commentator summarizes that theory thus: "[T]he smallest symptoms of antisocial behavior will, left to fester, breed greater and greater crimes, all the way down to murder."

While there may be some merit to that theory, in practice -- as in New York City under the reign of Il Duce Giuliani -- "quality of life" policing has sometimes led to replacing the anarchic violence of street criminals (or merely the unsightly spectacle of street beggars) with state-sanctioned violence -- such as the unpunished murder of private security guard Patrick Dorismond by undercover New York narcotics officers.

(Dorismond, the father of two, was accosted by the officers, who asked where they could buy drugs. He took offense, and a scuffle ensued in which Dorismond was fatally shot in the chest. As public outrage mounted over this needless death, Giuliani illegally unsealed Dorismond's juvenile delinquency record, and released a toxicology report showing that the victim had smoked marijuana shortly before he was killed -- none of which has anything to do with his summary execution at the hands of police who, according to eyewitnesses, provoked the fight and then spat profane invective at the young father as his life bled away.)

Taken in the abstract, QOL-oriented policing seems like a good idea, if only because it addresses the age-old complaint that there's never a policeman around when you need one. The problem, once again, is found in the practice, rather than the principle. In practice, QOL policing means the ever-increasing presence of armed government agents in the employ of revenue-starved governments, there to enforce often obscure ordinances regulating how you cut your grass, care for your lawn, paint your house, maintain your car, and even feed your dog. And intrusions of this sort can now be justified as a way of helping to keep property values up in your neighborhood -- as if anything you can do would have a bigger impact than the Fed's manipulation of the money supply.

In prosperous and stable times, this is a formula for trouble. What happens when the prosperity (or at least the illusion of the same) is gone?

Think of it this way: Quality of Life policing is a creative way of weaving armed agents of the state into the fabric of a community, just as the unwinding of the housing/mortgage/refinancing market causes that social fabric to become undone.

Video extra:

In this clip from Boston Legal, Alan Shore -- the high-viscosity uber-lawyer played by James Spader -- peels the skin off an attorney representing the credit card industry. Shore's soliloquy is filed under "Things I Wish I Had Written," and, in fact, it does remind me a great deal of at least one essay I did write.

Make sure to visit The Right Source.


Broken said...

"Quality of Life" policing is the original purpose of all civilian police forces. They were born from the relentless necessity in the minds of the middling classes of forcing their prissy demands on those who saw life through different eyes. It's covered in detail here.

William N. Grigg said...

Brother Broken -- This was an excellent find! Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention.

God bless.

Broken said...

My pleasure. I wrote a little something which required that reference awhile back.

Anonymous said...

Will, I don't know what is wrong with this blog of yours, or Blogger, but once it worked and now it doesn't. Maybe its the browser, I don't think so because I can post on other Blogger accounts without incident, but ever since your post about the kids that got arrested while in school, and thats when the password scheme popped up, its been whacked. I'm going to test my theory out. On the other hand in order for more dialogue you're making it too difficult with too many hoops to jump through with the passwords, approvals, etc. I'm sure you can delete any posts you don't like, thats an administrators right, but you stand a greater chance of smothering this child of a blog while still in its crib. Its like posting a billboard in the middle of the Sahara and claiming that people are seeing you... well, yeah, they are.... maybe, but who'd know! Maybe someone would fly over but you'd never hear about it because of the distances imposed. Let someone else moderate if necessary to clean up the dross and you'll get a lot more links, a lot more attention, and a lot more debate. And isn't getting the word out there important enough to do so?

Mister Spock said...

Will –

Being at the libertarian/paleocon end of the spectrum, I am as opposed to excessive use of government force as you are, but I believe we both can see a collective right to defend life, liberty and property as easily as we see that individual right. As you know, the JBS has (had?) a slogan, Support Your Local Police – And Keep Them Independent, which alludes to the necessity of police forces being decentralized as possible, lest, as always, and certainly now in the US, we become a police state.

This collective right would include instituting police departments, sheriffs, National Guard units, Armies, etc. However, the fact that an individual police officer is or can become corrupt, or a whole police force becomes corrupt is not a reason to oppose the institution any more than bad doctors or bad mechanics means we should abolish those professions, either. The bottom line is that man is corrupt and that's why we need police in the first place – along with the rule of law. (And for some levels of government, there may be a libertarian case for privatizing police and fire departments, etc., but that's beyond the point of this reply.)

Yet Broken's attitude seems to be (and I am willing to be corrected) anti-police, not anti-bad individual cop or anti-the wrong use of police as a group.

For example, Broken states, "In fact, the origin of modern police forces had NOTHING to do with actual crime, and EVERYTHING to do with upholding PRISSY community standards," and ""Quality of Life" policing is the original purpose of ALL civilian police forces. They were born from the relentless necessity in the minds of the middling classes of forcing their PRISSY demands on those who saw life through different eyes." [my emphasis]

Nothing to do with actual crimes? I seriously doubt it, and no evidence was provided to show otherwise. Do you really think that ALL modern police forces only arrest "actual" criminals as misdirection to fool everyone as to their real goal of just wanting to arrest prostitutes, vagrants, impose outdated religious values, etc.? "Prissy?" Broken seems to take issue with the police being used to enforce laws against public drunkenness (does that include drunk driving, or just stumbling down the street?), prostitution, and other crimes that some argue are victimless. I don't consider keeping a drunk driver off the road "prissy."

(That brings up a side issue – perhaps you could address the question of what sins should be crimes in your blog, or you and Kevin could address this in an upcoming radio program. I have a lot of questions I would love to hear your opinion on, but this whole reply is already too long.)

While not everything the left says is wrong, it usually is, and Broken went to the Monthly Review to argue against the police, so that's suspect to start with. Monthly Review is a socialist magazine and is not only pro-socialist, but pro-communist as well – not the first place I would go for a credible argument against anything. Throughout the article Broken linked to, we see all the typical propaganda from the Marxists: Class structure/biases, police are anti-women, anti-poor, pro-slavery, etc., and ONLY there to impose outdated morality/religion (Marxism is anti-Christian at its core), control people, etc.

And the article simply states what it is claiming it proves. While the statistics in the article may be valid (arrest rates for specific "crimes," shifting emphasis, etc.), that only shows what the police forces have become, not that they were specifically instituted for that reason. For example, after regurgitating Marxist propaganda like "Police scrutiny of the dangerous classes was at least partly an outgrowth of the preventive orientation of the new police," the author simply states, "So, contrary to the crime-and-disorder explanation, the new police system was not created in response to spiraling crime rates, but developed as a means of social control by which an emerging dominant class could impose their values on the larger population." NO evidence is supported for this "conclusion." If the author had provided documentation of the intent to create modern police forces for the alleged reasons, prior to their existence and/or corruption, it might be worth considering. As it is, he is simply imposing his rather biased view on historical circumstances and assuming (or propagandizing) what he claims to prove. I know this is redundant, but it is important to make clear that the analysis of what police departments have morphed into does not prove that they were created as a mechanism for one "class" to impose its values on society, which tacitly implies their existence is evil. (Marxists have always been anti-police, yet Marxist states are always police states. Go figure.)

Rather than addressing the original question, "Why were the modern police created?,"
the bulk of the article addresses what the police were/are which no matter how accurate, doesn't address the origin, only how off-track/corrupt, they are (and/or have been in the past.)

And with the constant use of the word "class," comments about women, slavery, and so on, it seems more a condemnation of police MEN (white men, of course), Christianity, morals, etc. What's the bottom line of this article? To restore police forces to the goal of protecting life, liberty and property, or to get rid of the police?

If you read all the way to the very last sentence in the article, the author actually makes my point: "If policing was not in its inception a totalitarian pursuit, the modern development of the institution has at least been a major step in that direction."

What he has admitted is that he has not proved his earlier statement, "the new police system was not created in response to spiraling crime rates, but developed as a means of social control by which an emerging dominant class could impose their values on the larger population." Actually, what is happening is that the corruption of a legitimate institution is being used, frankly, by people that think like he does, to impose totalitarianism on people ignorant of history.

William N. Grigg said...

Anonymous -- I'm not sure what's happened to Blogger, but a number of blogs have had problems of the sort you describe. I appreciate you interest and concern, and have acted on your suggestions. Thanks!

Mister Spock, I was aware of Monthly Review's ideological slant (which its contributors don't bother to conceal), but the timeline presented in that piece is quite similar to what I've read in other studies produced by non-statist researchers. In dealing with sources like MR, I apply the same caveat lector approach I use when culling out useful insights from other leftist publications, such as CounterPunch.

I was intrigued that the MR piece brought up the time lag of nearly sixty years (!) between the London Riots of 1780 (which I had just read about in Weintraub's "Iron Tears," ironically enough) and the establishment of London's police force.

London, the first city of the English-speaking world, DIDN'T HAVE POLICE until 1829. Neither did Philadelphia, or any other colonial city at the time. During the founding era there were sheriffs and citizen militias (what we'd now call posses), but no professional police.

I suspect -- and if someone were to give me a fellowship to study the issue, I think I could prove -- that modern policing was a product of the political surveillance system put in place after the Congress of Vienna; Paul Johnson's "Birth of the Modern" describes how that period was the "golden age of the political police" and a boom time for regulators and buttinskis of every variety.

Local police are preferable to nationalized police, obviously, but I think it's a canard to say that the police protect our lives and property in any sense: They're not under any legal or civil liability when they fail to do so.

Granted, they're useful in tracking down criminals after offenses have been committed, arresting them, and making them available for trial. Most of the time, however, police are involved in enforcing positivist "laws" intended to regulate non-criminal behavior (a category that includes everything not impinging on other persons or their property).

As a teenager, I used to ride along with a friend who was a Deputy Sheriff in Madison County, Idaho. He told me that police work was "about ninety-five percent boredom and about five percent terror."

My friend exaggerated a bit, I'm sure. Let's assume the ratio is, say, 70/30 boredom vs. terror.

I'd bet that if we were to render from from crime statistics those offenses that are of the "malum prohibitum" variety, we'd find that
this corresponds pretty closely to the actual amount of police work devoted to dealing with legitimate threats to individual persons and property.

As it stands right now, I'm not entirely satisfied that the modern police force IS a legitimate institution, any more than our standing army is the type of military establishment of which our founders would approve. Professional police forces are a very recent innovation in human society. In most countries they tend to employ the worst and most violent degenerates, and in our country they have mutated into a literal army of occupation with stunning alacrity. So, as I indicated, my thinking on the subject is in flux....

Mister Spock said...

Will –

Thanks for your comments.

This is not a subject I have a great deal of knowledge of, and you and the vehemently anti-police Kristian Williams may be 100% correct regarding the origin of the 'modern' police force. However, as I stated, the article didn't prove that, and seemed to be arguing against legitimate police departments based on past abuses, corruption, and what they are/are becoming.

As I indicated, it would be silly to believe that all of the "actual" criminals currently incarcerated (and there are probably tens if not hundreds of thousands of them in this country alone) are only there as part of a charade that conceals an international conspiracy of local police to create a totalitarian society. There are good cops, bad cops, corrupt police departments and a slippery slope of police departments being consolidated under federal control. I still believe that's the problem, not local police departments as an institution.

I cannot agree with your statement that "it's a canard to say that the police protect our lives and property in any sense: They're not under any legal or civil liability when they fail to do so."

I am well aware they are not obligated to do so, and that people should take responsibility for their own lives, including self-defense. The recent shootings at VA Tech allowed me to point out those facts to many people. I think your statement that "they're useful in tracking down criminals after offenses have been committed, arresting them, and making them available for trial," is evidence you don't really believe that either.

And your statement, "Most of the time, however, police are involved in enforcing positivist "laws" intended to regulate non-criminal behavior (a category that includes everything not impinging on other persons or their property," is also true, and that's my complaint – what they have become, not what they should be. I understand the distinction between a peace officer and a law enforcement officer.

When I was a kid, police were to be respected; now they are to be feared. Please don't misinterpret what I'm saying – I'm as much opposed to what the police have become as anyone. As a matter of fact, I was recently on jury duty, and I played a significant role in finding the defendant not guilty, specifically because of what the police did at the incident.

So let me ask this. If you and I were benevolent co-dictators of this country, we would rescind thousands of laws, jail many of our leaders for treason, disband the Army (at least I would – I've indicated in the past in this blog or in a private email that I oppose Standing Armies, and I think you do, too), etc. What would you replace local police forces with, if anything?

Mister Spock said...


I had some trouble a while back trying to log on and post here, too. I skipped posting a few times because of that. I found out if I go to google and log in instead of trying to do it here, and then go to your blog, I'm able to post.

Pietr said...

I'm from the UK.
I rent.
If I attempted to buy(and I would need a better job and some confidence that it would last)and failed, I would hope to be able to rent again.
In 1979 fully 60% of households were government rental.
I am government rental today, and I rationalise this two ways; one, I'm broke.
Two, if the original stock hadn't been nationalised in 1947, there would still be plenty of cheap rental property, so I am a victim as much as the property companies.
Meanwhile the price of the restricted market in private rental and buying continues to climb.

I was horrified to see the picture of evicted belongings, but I would have thought that faced with eviction my mind would be concentrated; I wouldn't wait like a fool to be evicted and scream that I was a victim, even by silent deposit of my belongings in the street.

Trouble is, it's the helpless people that fall for the credit scams in the first place.They just trust too much.

William N. Grigg said...

Pietr -- Thanks so much for your fascinating description of the UK's socialized housing market. We're not that far behind you folks, alas.

You're exactly right in describing the foolishness of Americans who have been lured into the mortgage credit scam. Even before I lost my long-time job last October, I insisted that our family continue to rent until we were out of debt -- despite pressures from our family to get "wealthy" by taking out a mortgage and using our home as an ATM.

The eviction photos, incidentally, aren't intended to express my outrage at the Sheriffs who conducted them, but instead to illustrate something of which we'll be seeing a great deal more in coming weeks and months....

Broken said...

At the risk of adding too much to this already elongated thread, I'll add on this: I served in the Military Police. That's different from civilian law enforcement, but I served under a pair of Provost Marshals (military version of Police Chief) who maintained a very tight connection to civilian police training standards and politics at the federal level. I read their training doctrine publications. My link to the leftist MR was simply the best summary of all I learned about the development of modern police theory, and as a bonus it provided the background. If nothing else, I will from my lower class background provide experiential affirmation to the class warfare aspect of police training, as reflected by the author's contention in the MR article. I was constantly trained to think my friends back home were scum, including the ones otherwise squeaky clean. I reiterate: this sort of prissy stuff was the policy at the federal level, slated for adoption by state and local agencies, from well before my time, often bluntly stated unmistakably to me personally when I made objections to my superiors.

Mister Spock said...

Here's an interesting article on this subject:

Mister Spock said...

Sorry. Hopefully the entire link this time:

Fred said...

Broken! Wow. That's some PM you worked for. Ours never even talked to us, let alone encourged us to look down upon anyone. Now that I think of it I don't recall ever meeting the man............or ever hearing his name! Sorry to hear of your experience.

As far as the local cops and what they do on a routine basis is concerned, they enforce the laws passed by state legislatures. Yes, some are easier to enforce than others.

The serious criminals who commit REAL crimes are hard to catch. Take a burglar as an example. Better yet, a burglar whose MO is to burglarize occupied dwellings. He is a loathsome creature who is--in all probability--either a crack head or a heroin junkie tryng to take the property of another so he can exchange it for drugs, or sell it for cash so he can buy a 20 dollar bag. He does this because his habit doesn't allow him to wake up in the morning to go to work, earn his keep, pay his bills,and pay for his habit as well. It's easier to steal from someone else.

Catching a bandit like this is very difficult. Sometimes the home owners call from their closet or locked bedroom to report an intruder. By time any cops get there the trail is cold. 1-2 minutes is all it takes for a worm to sliver back into his hole. Most people are cowards when it comes to searching for an intruder in their own home. Those who are unarmed are most likely to cringe behind the bed.

The flat foots locking up a drunk sleeping in the gutter would gladly drop him where they found him to get to a burglary or robbery call. Many do. But God help them if that drunk ends up getting run over by a car when witnesses saw the cops observing him in his inebriated state and did nothing to protect him from himself!

Alot of the "Quality of Life" enforcement measures receive criticism. But what folks don't hear is how many drunks or other low level "violators" end up being the same ones who left fingerprints on the bedroom window of the home they burglarized, or on the cash register they yanked off the counter at your local convenience store during a take-over robbery. It's not uncommon to lock up a low level street junkie/crook and then notice a perfectly timed halt to a rash of burglaries in a certain neighborhood. Coincidence? Maybe. 3 or 4 times in a row? Doubt it.

As I have said in previous comments the cops are the band-aids for everyone's problems. The ACTUAL causes of these problems are many. The fuzz get called when
somone can't handle the problem on their own. And the number of people who can't handle challenges on their own is increasing. Cops have nothing to do with that. Some could argue the citizens are being trained to be dependant on others for their security.

Pietr said...

I also lost my job one October back in 04.
I'd been working for somebody who had no moral compass and was happy to finish wiht him, but no reference and specialised skills meant no new job except working as a transport driver.
I had hoped to be in Canada by now with its very own version of hte Amesh and the moxy to reject non-criminal fingerprinting at the border.
The 60% figure was before Maggie Thatcher of course, who allowed people a 'right' to buy their government housing at discounts on rental period of up to 60% of the cost.
The Tony Blair era has seen that drop to 20% maximum of course as they want to stop people escaping.
I'm being flown free to Amsterdam for a job interview next week in my old field, and again to Edinburgh the week after for another.
I might finally make it.