Friday, November 21, 2014

The Bleak House (of Representatives) Finally Sues the President

This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. ~ Charles Dickens, Bleak House
There are reasons for the legislature to sue the president rather than using its legislative powers, but they are entirely to provide perpetual employment to D.C. lawyers. This lawsuit will drone on in judicial purgatory and never decide anything. It will, however, consume entire forests to print the incomprehensible legal briefs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

California Needs It's Slave Labor

At least that's what state lawyers are saying in federal court. My state, my liberal Democratic state, is telling the court that California cannot release non-violent offenders who should be eligible for early release because they are needed as cheap ($2 a day) firefighters.
The extension of 2-for-1 credits to all MSF inmates would likely make fire camp beds even more difficult to fill, as low-level, non-violent inmates would choose to participate in the MSF program rather than endure strenuous physical activities and risk injury in fire camps. ~ Nov. 17 court filing
Some definitions. MSF is "minimum support facility," they are work camps that have few guards and no walls or barbed wire. They are for prisoners who are no risk to the public. "2-for-1 credits" are a program to grants prisoners two days of time served for every actual day served. Usually these credits are only granted as payment to prison labor but the federal court wants all non-violent offenders to be eligible.

What the state is saying in the above quote is that it can't release non-violent offenders early because they need to keep them prisoners so they can work the fire lines.
the extension of enhanced credit-earning to these inmates would result in higher turnover and an even greater demand for minimum custody inmates. ~ ibid
Apparently there is a high demand for prisoner slave labor and early release threatens that supply of slaves.

Of course, the state could actually hire firefighters at a living wage and eschew using prison slaves as fodder for the flames but even in progressive California that is a step too close to democracy.

California currently holds 136,000 prisoners (equal to the population of Pasadena).

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Business of Immigrant Smuggling

I recently finished serving on a Federal jury. The defendant was accused of being part of an immigrant smuggling ring and I learned several things from the immigrants called as witnesses.

Immigrant Smuggling Is a Billion Dollar Business
In my case the rate to be guided across the US-Mexico border on a night-long hike to be picked up at the other end is between $3,000 and $6,000 (it really pays to negotiate the fee), payment due upon delivery. In 2012, about 270,000 Mexicans were estimated to have crossed the border illegally, which means payments were about one billion dollars. If you consider the rest of Latin America that amount more than doubles. The average income for a worker in Mexico is 280 peso a day. That's about $20US. These immigrant smugglers charge up to a year's income to bring one person into the United States.

Mother Jones reported in 2010 that immigrants from Thailand paid between $11,000 and $23,000 to be smuggled into the US. Unskilled workers in Thailand get paid about $120 per month in Thailand. These smugglers charge upwards of eight years of income for their services.

The Smuggling Chain Is Complex
Recruiters wait outside the Casa del Migrante in Tijuana seeking customers. Casa del Migrante is a Catholic charity that helps care for people who have been caught by the US Border Patrol and dumped back at the border with few if any resources. The recruiters negotiate a price for transit. The immigrants then take a taxi to a remote stretch of road in the desert where they are gathered into small groups. Guides lead them on an all night hike through rugged terrain. En route the guides will abandon them with instructions to seek a predominate landmark (in my case well lit wind turbines) where they will be met by vehicles (in my case two pick up trucks). The immigrants were not told what would happen next, what was the next link in the chain.

Sometimes the Next Link Is Servitude
After the case was decided, when I felt free to speculate, I began wondering what the next link is. How do the smugglers insure payment? That same Mother Jones article noted that the occasional answer is indentured servitude. Immigrants might be forced to work at farms the smugglers supply workers for until their debts are paid.

The Immigrants Are Sympathetic People
One immigrant witness was trying to be reunited with his wife living in San Diego. Another, Francisco Beltran, had spent 22 of his 28 years living in the United States. He had been deported a couple years ago and was simply trying to return to the only home he had ever known. None of the immigrants were on trial, had they been I would probably have voted acquittal.

The Defendant Was Not So Sympathetic
The defendant was charged with driving one of the transport trucks and being part of an organized smuggling operation. He did not testify, which is his right. His lawyer offered no witnesses, also his right. His lawyer confined his case to a closing argument where he urged the jury to imagine some alternative reason why his client had stopped to pick up five people who had been hiding in the underbrush and told them to hide on the floor of the truck as he drove off. The defendant never asked them where they wanted to go, he knew where to take them.

Had the defendant been engaged in civil disobedience and altruistically trying to help immigrants build better lives I might have gotten all nullification in the court's face. But he didn't and the evidence clearly shown the defendant was part of a commercial operation exploiting the immigrants for personal financial gain.

I joined the other jurors in finding the defendant guilty on all counts.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Anti-War Music in History

As we enter the "Nobody Knows What the Fuck We're Doing" phase of the third Iraq Was I thought it might be fun to look at some old-timey war songs.

All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight - Civil War
All quiet along the Potomac," they say,
Except now and then a stray picket
Is shot, as he walks on his beat, to and fro,
By a rifleman hid in the thicket.
'Tis nothing—a private or two, now and then,
Will not count in the news of the battle;
Not an officer lost—only one of the men,
Moaning out, all alone, the death rattle.
Written as a poem by Ethel Beers in 1861 and set to music by the prolific John Hill Hewlett in 1863. As the lyrics state, to generals the death of a common foot soldier is hardly worth mentioning.

I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier - World War I
I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy.
Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder,
To shoot some other mother's darling boy?
Written in 1915 by Alfred Bryan and Al Piantadosi, a couple of Tin Pan Alley professionals. It was popular in pacifist circles and reviled by war mongers like Teddy Roosevelt and so was banned from music halls across the United States. The song quickly became popular in England and Australia where the Great War was killing off the cream of their youth. It became the subject of numerous parodies. A joke told by Groucho Marx regards a card playing mother who says, "I didn' raise my boy, he had a joker."

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda - World War I
They collected the wounded, the crippled, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind and the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And when the ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where me legs used to be
And thank Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity 
This is not contemporary with the war, it was written by Eric Boyle in 1971, but no one can write about war songs without mentioning this as it is one of the most haunting songs I have ever heard. The story of the song is a hobo who joyfully traveled the outback with his swag. He was caught up in war mania, enlisted, and was shipped off to fight in the Battle of Gallipoli. Struck by a Turkish artillery shell and "when I awoke in me hospital bed and saw what it had done, I wished I was dead. I never knew there was worse things than dying." The photo is of the hospital for the wounded soldier of Gallipoli.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition - World War II
Down went the gunner, a bullet was his fate
Down went the gunner, then the gunners mate
Up jumped the sky pilot, gave the boys a look
And manned the gun himself as he laid aside The Book, shouting
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
During the Great Patriotic War none of the waring nations would permit anything like an anti-war song. The closest anyone got was Nazi Germany with the original lyrics to Lili Marlene.  The above ditty was written by famed songster Frank Loesser while serving in the U.S. Army as a propagandist.

I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag - Vietnam War
Come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, and don't hesitate
To send your sons off before it's too late.
And you can be the first ones in your block
To have your boy come home in a box. 
The Vietnam War era was the golden age of war songs. There were pro-war songs (Ballad of the Green Berets) and a plethora of anti-war recordings. Country Joe McDonald wrote this song in 1967, copying the music from a 1927 rag.


Light Up Ya' Lighter - Iraq War

So come on come on, sign up, come on 
This ones nothing like Vietnam 
Except for the bullets, except for the bombs 
Except for the youth thats gone
Michael Franti continued the tradition of thoughtful war songs in 2005 with this cut from his album Yell Fire.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Post Election: Now What?

The election is over but what will be the result?

1. There Will Be No Attorney General
The longest the United States has gone without an Attorney General was ten weeks during the Nixon Watergate scandal. I expect there is no human being currently living on Earth that a Republican Senate will vote to confirm as President Obama's Attorney General. President Obama will have to appoint an acting Attorney General which the Senate will refuse to confirm. The Senate will then claim that all actions of the Justice Department under its acting AG are illegal.

2. Voter ID Laws Will Get Worse
With almost two-thirds of governorships held by Republicans we can expect a major expansion of efforts to disenfranchise students, minorities, and the poor.  Voter ID laws will become more restrictive. More states will limit voting access. In 2016 we can expect hours long waits to vote in heavily Democratic cities in states like Texas and Ohio. Southern states will reimpose Jim Crow voting laws.

3.  Investigations But No Impeachment
I may be wrong here, the crazy may infest Republicans, but I expect that a united Republican Congress will choose to give President Obama death by a thousand cuts than try for a doomed to fail impeachment.

4. President Obama Will Do ... ?
This is the big question. Will the President get angry and fight or will he give up and lay low for the final years of his term? Will his last two years more resemble Harry Truman or James Buchanan? Whatever, expect the next two years to be extremely ugly.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Wither the Mid-Terms

Not whither, this election isn't so much a choosing as a dried up mess of compost. In this shit, Republicans will likely prevail.

There Is No Momentum
Nor public flame, nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread empire, Chaos! is restored
~ Alexander Pope
The "movement" pollsters are claiming to see is an illusion caused by pollsters shifting their screens to reflect what they think the final electorate will be. I'm not saying they are wrong, most will be accurate within the margin of error plus or minus an addition few percent. It's just not electorate shifts but calculation shifts. These screen shifts reflect the perceived...

Enthusiasm Gap
I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat. ~ Will Rogers
Remember "Hope and Change?" Remember when Democratic candidates could articulate some positive reason for electing them? In the one local competitive race (CA, 52nd CD), Democrat Scott Peters' campaign platform is mostly "don't elect the other guy who is a Tea Party follower and may be a gay sexual predator." Democrats across the country are pretty much saying that this is as good as it gets but Republicans will just make things worse. It's a depressing theme that isn't going to engender much enthusiasm.

October Surprises
If you can keep your head when all about you   
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too ~ Rudyard Kipling
Or,

If you can keep your head when all about you   
Are losing theirs,
You clearly don't understand the situation. ~ Murphy's Corollary

The big election surprises this year, ISIS and Ebola, both played badly for President Obama. They made him look indecisive and ineffective. In both cases he did the right thing in keeping calm and not panicking. But most Americans prefer decisive panic to calm response. And what plays badly for the President is bad for all Democrats because...

Midterm Traditions
The United States brags about its political system, but the President says one thing during the election, something else when he takes office, something else at midterm and something else when he leaves. ~ Deng Xiaoping
Midterm elections tend to go badly for the party in the White House. This is because presidents are never as good in office as we hoped they would be. People are disappointed and have only one way to show their dissatisfaction, voting for the opposition.

I'd like to see a November miracle and have Democrats hold the Senate. I just don't think it will happen. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Three Frighteningly Popular Reality TV Shows

In today's modern multichannel universe there is a television program for just about every bizarre taste.

Monsters Inside Me
You're a hypochondriac and you just can't decide what new symptoms to confound your doctor with next. This is the Animal Plant program for you. They have everything - flukes in your brain, worms in your eye, tiny mites crawling under your skin (scabies, above) - you could possibly believe is inhabiting you. All described in clinical yet gross, and engrossing, detail. The program started specializing on parasites but in recent years have branched out to viruses because they have actually run out of interesting parasites.

Deadly Women
The entire Investigation Discovery channel is dependent on the United States being the most murderous civilization in human history. If the National Rifle Association did not exist the ID channel would have had to create it to keep the kill rate up to network demands. Fortunately, for them, the list of American serial killers is so extensive even a 24-hour a day death channel is not  in danger of running out of subjects. Deadly Women concentrates on murderesses. Angry teens, black widows, old ladies with arsenic are all recreated by actresses in vignettes. Terrifyingly, the show is very popular with women viewers. The show features former FBI profiler Candice DeLong, a real life Clarice Starling. Each vignette ends with the female killer staring, unblinkingly, into the camera. Just like Hannibal Lecter.

Ancient Aliens
Remember the 1994 James Spader, Kurt Russell movie Stargate. It's premise was that the Pyramids were built for a space alien pretending to be the Egyptian god Ra. The movie was followed by successful TV spinoffs. Ancient Aliens contents that every jot and tittle of the Stargate multiverse was absolutely real. This History Channel series posits that everything that has ever happened on Earth is the result of alien intervention.
  • Life appears on Earth? The planet was seeded by aliens.
  • Dinosaur extinction? Aliens killed them off just a few thousand years ago to protect the humans that lived with them.
  • Every god ever? Aliens.
  • Noah's flood? Really happened, aliens.
  • Moses at Mount Sinai? He was talking to an alien.
  • Jesus virgin birth? Aliens inseminated Mary with an alien-human hybrid. (Actually, the series has never touched this because so many of the show's fans are fundamentalist Christians.)
  • Da Vinci, Einstein, Tesla? They were only geniuses because aliens talked to them.
  • Aliens helped Hitler build a flying saucer and America build its atomic bomb.
I could go on, they sure as hell do. Ancient Aliens is creationism for nerds.  Nothing happens due to physics or chemistry or biology. Everything is the result of space aliens playing with Earth. If you believe this you have to accept that these aliens, who once strode the Earth as gods have been reduced to drawing designs in corn fields, anally probing hicks, and butchering cows.

P.S. I admit I've watched all of these occasionally because I am severely disturbed.