Sunday, April 29, 2012

Strip Searches and the Republican Soul

E.L. Doctorow, writing in today's Sunday New York Times traces the decline of America,  the slide of this great country from something unique to a nation like so many others. 
But the coup de grace , as he tells the tale, is the decision by the US Supreme Court to protect the nation's jailers from the threat of weapons being smuggled into jails by all those girl jay walkers, those ladies who rolled through stop signs, or the men who were simply arrested for  DWB (Driving While Black) or even RWB (Riding While Black.)

From this day forward, there ought to be no public appearance by any candidate for office, or by any office holder, without that person being asked, directly and immediately: "Do you agree with the strip search decision?"  and then, if the answer is no, or if the answer is a dodge, "Will you work to pass legislation to limit strip searches?"

You might also ask, "What evidence are you aware of which suggests that strip searches protect jailers from hidden weapons? What are the statistics of how many weapons have ever been found by this procedure over the past 10 years?"

The fact is, the heart and soul of the Republican party, Rush Limbaugh, has dismissed even the Abu Ghraib stripping of prisoner as just "the boys letting off steam," and "no worse than a Skull and Bones" initiation rite. But that's just Mr. Limbaugh's fetid imagination at work again.
The fact is, this is what the Republican heart and soul is all about: The case was about a powerless man who was wronged by those in power, the police and the prison authorities, and the Republicans on the court, and all the Republicans across the land are determined to protect those poor, sensitive, vulnerable jailers, who have guns, from the sixteen year old girl who has just been dragged in in plastic handcuffs.

We have to ask everyone who wants to hold office, Republican and Democrat alike, where they stand on this.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Finally, The Democrats Throw a Punch

Osama is dead and General Motors is alive. If Romney had been President, exactly the opposite would be true.
  --Joe Biden

Okay, finally, a little ditty short enough and punchy enough to appeal to Joe Sixpack.
Now if we can just get one or two a week until November, the Democrats may stand half a chance.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Romney: The Ultimate Empty Suit

Listening to Mitt Romney on the radio this morning I could not help thinking: Is this a real human being I'm listening to, or some radio creation?
He was giving a speech in Manchester, New Hampshire and he sounded as if he were trying out lines on a focus group:
1. Are you better off now than you were 3 years ago when Obama took office?
2. President Obama has done the best he can, but that's not good enough.
3. Let's let somebody try to be President who has some experience in the business world. Obama has none.
4. President Obama may not have caused the financial meltdown crisis but what he did made it worse.
5. My parents never told me we could make our family more successful by taking away something from some other family.
6. Tax the rich? That's class warfare.

Of course, none of these rhetorical flourishes have any real substance. They are all applause lines. They are meant to stir up those who already hate Obama. And there are plenty of those. And some of those, who knows how many hate him because he is a Black man sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom. That's the deep down truth. There are a set of "they" out there who will never accept the stinging defeat this inoffensive Black man handed them in 2008.

But, just for the fun of it let's look at the six empty slogans emanating from that empty man, Mitt Romney:
1. Are you better off now than you were when President Obama was sworn in in January, 2009? Well, if that's the real question, then Obama gets re elected in a landslide. You will remember the economy was in free fall and the government and the nation was not far behind. But that would require a few neurons in the memory part of the brain and nobody from Rush to Mitt wants to have any of those functioning.
2. President Obama isn't good enough. Well, I've argued that at times, but compared to anybody the Republicans have put forward, most especially Mitt, oh, give me the O man.
3. Experience in the business world. Oh, there's a necessary qualification. You notice Mitt doesn't want to mention his own experience in government, which provided the model for Obamacare, and Mitt left as his own administration was presiding over a disintegration in government services in Massachusetts. He could not have got re election based on his performance in government so now he's saying, well, forget that. Elect me because I made vulture capitalism work for Bain Inc.
4. President Obama made the financial crisis worse. Oh, really. He might have done more and he might have done better but he wrested the steering wheel out of the icy grip of every Republican in Congress and in the land just in time to keep the nation from driving off the cliff.
5. No, your parents didn't  tell you not to take things from the rich to improve your lot because you were already rich. That's Rubio's line. It goes to the heart of the Republican problem. The GOP is the party of the haves and they live in fear of the day when Joe Sixpack realizes that some part of his own failure is directly connected to the success of the rich, who have controlled the rules and rigged the game so guys like him cannot succeed.
6. Taxing the rich. Class warfare. Oh, very bad. Well, give me a little class warfare that comes from the bottom 80% and is aimed at the upper 20% who have been reigning down bombs on the have nots for so long the have nots think getting screwed is normal.

But none of this analysis matters. People hate Obama and resent the Democrats because they have come to believe in fantasies about right and wrong. Until Joe Sixpack gets smart, he'll vote for Republicans, he'll love the NRA, and he'll tune into Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and he'll never know what hit him, but that's all right with Joe.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Detoxifying the Supreme Court

Mad Dog has been accused of aimless ranting about the Supreme Court for some years now.
Now, public opinion and informed opinion has caught up with his insights.
It turns out, lo and behold, the Supreme Court, despite the attempts at illusion with the black robes, is nothing more than one more political institution, no more rational than Congress or the executive, and just as captive to political philosophy. The strip search case brought this into bold relief, as did the clarifying experience of listening to the justices pick apart the Obamacare law, and play with it like so many ill bred adolescents, picking at and playing with their food.
It was clear, from a reading of the Constitution, which is, after all a short document, the only description of the Supreme Court is brief and vague. No number of justices is specified and no mechanism for removing justices is specified.Now, a professor of law at Duke, writing in the NY Times observes the Court has had various numbers of judges, from 7 in 1789 (a number set by Congress) to fewer in 1800 to 10 during the Civil War, a number determined by Congress which was worried the Court would sympathize with the Confederacy.
The idea of lifetime terms derived from the experience of the English king removing judges whenever he disagreed with their opinions. But the Constitution says only the justices can be serve as long as they display "good behavior."
A group of law school professors suggest a new law which would allow every President to appoint a new justice to the Court, every two year of his presidency, so by the end of his four years, he's appointed 2 justices. If he serves 8 years, he appoints 4. But only the 9 most recently appointed justices get to vote on cases. The other justices would meet with the newer justices to decide which cases get heard in the first place.
That would work for me. I'd like it even better if he got to appoint one a year.
It would mean if you win the election, you get a court, gradually, which agrees with your philosophy and politics, but the court would change with the changing political environment in the country.
Now, all we have to do is to get President Obama re elected with a large enough majority in House and Senate to pass this thing.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Presidential Politics and the Second Wife Syndrome

When Jimmy Carter emerged to capture the Presidency it happened after Richard M. Nixon had finally, after many years, managed to reveal himself enough to disgust a large enough portion of the electorate that they wanted someone who was not Richard M. Nixon or anything like him.

So, from the cynical, Machiavellian Nixon, we swung to Carter, who looked maybe a bit naive, but fresh and open and not at all a schemer.

After 8 years of George W. Bush, anyone who sounded as if he had two neurons synapsing would have been a breath of fresh air.

John McCain fell into the trap of choosing Sarah Palin, who reminded a lot of people of George W. in her easily apprehended stupidity. She was just dumb as a stick. Aggressive, cocky, self confident and really stupid. Remind you of anyone?

Yep, George W.

So, all Barack Obama had to do was to speak grammatical English and to not come off as a scary Black man.

Now, President Obama has to throw punches, but he has got by his whole life by being non confrontational, and it's just not in him. He just doesn't know how to trade punches with Mitt and Mitch and Rush.

So, his fate appears about as clear as that of the ACA, Obamacare.

Our electorate is just not all that bright.

Just look at the comments you see on the internet.

I'm just hoping what you see in cyberspace is not what goes to the polls in November, but like the fate of the ACA, it doesn't look good.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Men In Black: Your Supreme Court in Action

So here are excerpts from the Supreme Court opinion about strip searches in the case called Florence v Board of Chosen Freeholders.
The complaint came from a man who was riding in a car (not even driving) during a traffic stop and arrested when the police computer (erroneously) said the man had failed to appear for a court appearance. He was taken to two jails.

"At the first jail, petitioner, like every incoming detainee, had to shower with a delousing agent and was checked for scars, marks, gang tatoos, and contraband as he disrobed. Petitioner claims he also had to open his mouth, lift his tongue, hold out his arms, turn around, and lift his genitals. At the second jail, petitioner, like other arriving detainees had to remove his clothing while an officer looked for body markings, wounds, and contraband; had an officer look at his ears, nose, mouth, hair, scalp, fingers, hands, arm pits and other body openings; had a mandatory shower; and had his clothes examined. Petitioner claims that he was also required to lift his genitals, turn around and cough while squatting."
Notice, even in the description, certain inclinations of the justices. The petitioner is a "detainee," which is better of course than being a prisoner, I suppose. And notice the use of the word, petitioner "claims" as if there is reason to doubt what he says. After all, he is a guy who has been doing genital lifts. We have to doubt a guy who would stoop to this. He couldn't be a gentleman, if he is willing to talk about it.
The prisoner had nothing done to him that all the other prisoners hadn't had done to them, which is, I infer, supposed to make us all feel better. He was not abused in any special way; he was abused in the same way everyone else taken into these two jails was abused.
During the arguments, the justices made clear their sympathies were not with the man to whom all this was done, but their sympathies were with the jailers, who were, after all, at great risk from harm from the dangerous people they had arrested. Well, maybe the people they had arrested were not dangerous at all, but the jailers had no way to know that and so, full of fear, the jailers were justified in visiting these deprivations onto whomsoever they found under their full control inside the jail.
It has been noted both in this trial and in a similar case heard before this court some years ago, the data on what has been found from people hauled in off the streets suggests it is a very rare thing, maybe once out of a thousand, that anything which might be harmful to the jailers has ever been found. One of the justices suggested this lack of positive findings might suggest the deterrent efficacy of the strip search procedure--after all, any miscreant on the street who knows he or she might be arrested and stripped searched is sure to not hide a gun up his rectum or her vagina.
In fact, there are still knifings in jails and prisons, and still drug use. Stripping prisoners has not made a dent in any of this. That did not seem to matter to the justices, the fact this practice, put in place to protect jailers and prisoners does not, has never been effective. None of that matters. The point is, the jailers say they want to do it. That's all that matters, what the jailers want. That's all our learned justices need to hear.
This is what this nation has come down to, fellow citizens.
This is what the founding fathers so loathed they wrote it into the constitution there would be no unreasonable searches and seizures. They had had experiences with King George III's soldiers and police. But I bet they weren't doing genital lifts in 1776.

No, we have to wait for Justice Scalia and his crowd for treating citizens, innocent citizens, captured on the streets of our nation like Abu Ghraib prisoners.

When George W. Bush spoke to the nation after the photos of Abu Ghraib appeared on the internet, he said, "This is not who we are." He said a few bad apples at the prison had done this; they were the exception in their sadistic behavior.

Well, folks, Judge Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Kennedy have made this exception into who we are.

What is the difference between being jailed in America and being raped? If it happens in jail, it's legal.

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.
Had enough yet?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Strip Searches: The Republican State of Mind

Nothing draws a brighter line between the Republican Party and the Democrats than the issue of strip searching prisoners.

This is not something that your government will do to you only if you are captured fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan or if you are caught with a bloody knife outside the home of a murder victim.

This happens to nuns arrested for protesting against a war in Washington, DC or to a man who was stopped by police because his taillight was out and the police computer said (incorrectly) there was a warrant for his arrest. It can happen to your daughter if she is arrested fro speeding and taken to a station house. It can happen if your wife is stopped and she doesn't have her driver's license with her.

The Republican majority just voted again to deny the complaint against unreasonable search and seizure made by the man who was stripped searched after having been arrested, erroneously, because the computer had got it wrong.

The Republican majority on the Court reasoned it was just fine to do a strip search on this innocent man because when you first bring into a police station any person, you have no way of knowing whether he is a mass murderer.

That was Justice Kennedy's argument. Timothy McVeigh, who blew up a federal building was arrested on a traffic violation and brought to the station house and think what a monster he was! Of course, nowhere is it suggested that strip searching this Hannibal the Cannibal in any way protected or could have protected the police who arrested him. He did not have a bomb stowed up his rectum.

And remember, we are talking about people arrested on the street by police, and these people have not been convicted of anything.

As Kayla Williams noted in her memoir, Love My Rifle More than You, the Army stripped anyone they arrested in Iraq simply to humiliate them and to assert control over them.

She was part of that process--they wanted a female present to really humiliate their prisoners.

Sherrif Arpaio in Arizona, another Republican rising star, marches prisoners through the streets in their underwear, before their trials.

For all their talk about liberty and freedom, from the Tea Party to the Free Stater wing of the Republican party, to the main stream justices of the Supreme Court, Scalia, Alito, Thomas, Roberts and Kennedy, the Republicans are only indignant about a loss of freedom when it means regulators from the government may impose regulations about how industry can despoil the environment. When it comes to governmental police laying the heavy wood on some powerless citizen--go right ahead. As Rush Limbaugh said of Abu Gharib, well that was only boys blowing off steam, just a fraternity stunt.

Justice Scalia declaims he is only following the original intent of the framers of the constitution. Nowhere were these eighteenth century gentlemen more clear than when they talked about cruel and unusual punishments or unreasonable search and seizure. This is something that goes back to their time. They were very familiar with sadistic police, with bullies in uniforms.

This should be a gift horse to the Democratic party.

Every Republican ought to be asked:

1/ Do you support strip searching arrested citizens?

2/ Would you support a law in New Hampshire to forbid or severely limit the circumstances under which prisoners could be stripped in police stations?

This is a liberty litmus test and Democrats ought to rub the Republican faces in it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mr. Obama Predicts

Okay, President Obama said today he thought the Supreme Court would uphold the Affordable Care Act.
He said they would look at the role of the court, and the role of the Congress, and they would say, well the elected representatives of the people voted for this, so who are we to over turn it? If voting means anything, then we cannot dismiss that.
Another reason the Court would not overturn the law, he says, is that would mean reversing things which have already gone into place, like forbidding pre existing conditions as a basis for rejecting issuing policies and allowing kids just out of college to remain in their parent's policies.
And the third reason the President thinks the Supreme Court will uphold the law is precedent: other courts have upheld the law as constitutional.

Mad Dog would love to be wrong on this and would love the President to be correct.

Unfortunately, Mad Dog knows the President is wrong: The Court will reverse the individual mandate and will argue it's not their fault if the rest of the law falls apart. All they are talking about is the mandate. Whatever happens after that is up to Congress.
Well, the simple answer is the court is nothing special, just a collection of nine political appointees doing what they were appointed to do.
In a review of The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt, William Saletan noted that authors from George Lakoff to Drew Westen have said that "people are fundamentally intuitive, not rational. If you want to persuade others, you have to appeal to their sentiments." David Hume observed reason was the slave of the passions, and you can certainly see that in Justice Scalia. People "reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they've decided," says Saletan. "Reason justifies our acts and judgments to others."
This blog and others have shown how the justices have done this, case after case.
They will say the Constitution is about what you cannot vote on, so the voting the President insists they respect matters not at all. They will say the function of the court is to be sure the other branches do not violate "Original Intent," i.e. the idea of right governance as conceived by the founding fathers, who in Scalia's mind have the same holy status as the twelve apostles.
They will say the argument we'd have to dismantle what has already been put into place, and that lives will be changed by it could have been used in Brown vs. The Board of Education--after all, had the segregated Southern schools not already been built and occupied and did the Supreme Court not cause all those schools and all those children to be disrupted, in the name of principle?
As far as precedent, well several courts on the way to the Supreme Court found the ACA unconstitutional, so there are some opinions concurring.
The really sad thing here is watching the President explain, once again, that his opponents are reasonable people, and he expects they will act in a kind and thoughtful way, not because they like him, but because these are men who want the best for the country, men who will use their faculties of reason to see things the right way.
He just does not seem to be able to learn from experience.
Memo to President Obama: These Republican Justices, these Republicant Congressmen and Senators and radio talk show hosts--they are not nice people. They are not "folks." They are bitter and they are selfish and they are determined to protect their own wealth and power, and damn the rest of the country. And, as they have said so often, Mitch McConnell being the clearest about this, the only thing which matters to him as a Republican or to any true Republican is that you fail, no matter what the price to the country. In fact, the bigger the price to the country, the deeper the hurt, the better, so the country will never again be tempted to vote for another radical socialist like you. That'll learn 'em, your big failure.
Much as I like the guy, I'm beginning to wonder whether or not anyone so starry eyed can actually lead this nation.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Income Tax as Zen Patriotism

How do I hate the income tax?

Let me count the ways.

When I ran a small business, as I did for 27 years, it took me about 20 years to get organized collecting, keeping track of the multiplicity of sources of income. I had no training as an accountant, and for many of those years there was no software, so I had a system of envelops and I tried to keep tract of 1099 forms, but I was forever chasing down various bank account statements, trying not to miss an interest payment which would mean I'd failed to report income, the big crime in the eyes of the IRS.

I needed several bank accounts: One for the income from my primary business, one for keeping money set aside to pay estimated income taxes, another for my wife's job's income, another for my personal expenses which were unrelated to business expenses. A junior CPA at my accountant's office told me, "Oh, the IRS is going to hang you. It looks like you are shuffling money between accounts to avoid reporting income." But I get statements on all the accounts and they are all in the same bank," I objected. Oh, it looks bad, she said.

Sure enough I got audited many times.

Usually, I got audited because the IRS didn't understand that the 1099 forms were part of what I was reporting as business income, not separate earnings.

I had other sources of income than from my primary business, like from writing articles for magazines or book advances, and I didn't want to mix that income with the income from the primary business income, so there was a separate bank account for that.

The other interesting thing about being self employed is you pay a self employment tax.What is that all about? What it felt like is the IRS and the government saying, "If you are self employed you must be cheating."

I also paid something called the Minimal Alternative Tax.
Ultimately, I got a good accountant, who helped me keep things straight and things settled down.

But every year, I reached April 15th feeling pretty good only to see my accounts wiped clean: Paying estimated income taxes, 1040 taxes and retirement (SEP contributions.)

Decision after decision was based on what it did to my taxes.

Every scrap of receipt got kept, filed to prove I had spent a particular dollar on a legitimate business expense.

And no matter how scrupulously I tried to play the game, I was felt guilty, like some sort of involuntary criminal. I could never keep up with all the rules and with all the changes in the rules.

And I believe paying my taxes is the only meaningful patriotic act left to me as an average citizen.

I hate the income tax.

It feels intrusive. The government looks at all my expenses, all my sources of income. What else is there I can hold private? And they strip all that away.

They know what I pay for my car, what I paid for the hotel at the convention.

Of course, I tell them this because I want them to give me credit for all that as a business expense. I don't have to tell them.

I hate the income tax and all the reporting, and all the record keeping.

I'd much rather pay a big tax when I buy something.

That way, I feel as if I want that new car, well I have to pay for it. I don't have to buy that car. But I have to earn a living.

Rationally, I know a progressive income tax is better social policy. The poor, who are less able to pay, pay way less than the rich.

But I hate the income tax.

Actually, I hate it a lot less now that I'm an employee. I love the W-2. With deductions taken out automatically, the pain is gone.

Having said all this, I still think it's an anathema to allow the Repulbicants blackmail every candidate into pledging never to allow an income tax.

Because it never stops with the income tax. Why not have them pledge to not allow abortions, contraception, gay marriage, increases in property tax? Pretty soon you have a robo candidate, who has signed up for all the pledges, and can only sign ten sorts of bills into law.

And, once you have signed enough pledges, you have given away your ability to negotiate with the legislature, if you are running for governor.

Well, she has signed off on the income tax, and she can't increase property taxes this year. So now we've got her.

Bad idea.

Balls: That's What I'm Talking About

(Double click on cartoon)

A previous post suggested the only Democrat, beyond Elizabeth Warren, who seems to have any real balls is Jackie Cilley.

Mad Dog realizes he offends the delicate sensibilities of the New Hampshire electorate by referring to the a part of the anatomy intimately connected with the male reproductive organs, but the Republicants have been saying for years the basic failing in every Democrat is the absence of same.

Democrats, of course, have done nothing to disabuse the public of this perception--witness their chose leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, who is a cartoon character of wimpiness--whispery voice, narrow shouldered, an apology personified.

President Obama, for all his virtues, is not much better. He refers to his frothing, vituperative adversaries, people like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and Rush Limbaugh, people who wish to castrate him and to throw him off a cliff, as "Folks."

Not an accurate or useful image. When Martin Luther King referred to the governor of Alabama, George Wallace, he said the governor had hate dripping from his lips--a more accurate and useful image.

Now, Jackie Cilley has had the temerity to suggest it's not brave or smart or good policy or good for the state of New Hampshire to "take the pledge" to never ask for a state income tax. The granite headed part of the electorate takes this as, "Oh, then she's for an income tax." Which is to say, if she doesn't promise not to ask for an income tax, well then she intends to ask for one. Or, another way of viewing this, "If she's not against it then she might allow it and I don't want anyone who might even consider it."
The third rail of New Hampshire politics, if New Hampshire had public rail transport, which of course, for an agrarian state, is another thing we would never even want to think about.
One of the hallmarks of a parochial, closed mind is the unwillingness to even think about things which might be frightening or distasteful.
Oh, the earth might be round, don't want to think about what that might mean.
So, we have candidates asked to shout, "Zeig, Heil," whenever the question no income tax arises.
Fact is, if the people of New Hampshire don't want one, fine.
But refusing to even consider that as one of a hundred approaches is diagnostic of paralyzing fear. If you are really afraid of something, the best thing is to examine it, dissect it, look at it under the microscope, understand its machinery, its power, its infectious potential and then you can be really protected against it.
But no, not here in the granite state. Here, like so many medieval wretches, we refuse to even look at something we fear and loathe.
What Democrats with real courage and leadership will say is: I'm not afraid to talk about any form of "revenue enhancement," if only to understand why we don't want something. We'll be safer against an income tax, ultimately, if we look at it, and look at all the preferable alternatives and examine why each one is dangerous and each one might be useful.
We sometimes find good uses for snake venom. We sometimes learn how to inoculate ourselves against a dangerous organism by examining it.