Saturday, July 30, 2011

Over the Debt Cliff

I doubt that August 2 will be a financial Armageddon, a quick fall over the cliff to destruction on the rocks below. More likely it will be a slow motion tumble with each roll breaking more bones, causing more damage much of which will never heal quite right.

Think the economic equivalent of the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme except they didn't fall, they were pushed by Tea Partying Republicans. Jill's injuries will leave her confined to a wheelchair. Jack's "broken crown" will cause permanent brain damage and put him in a vegetative state coma.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Roots of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

This'll work.
The Arab-Israeli conflict did not begin with the 1947 United Nation partition of Palestine and the absurd borders it drew.

Imperial Britain wrote three documents during World War I as part of a desperate attempt to distract Germany from the Western Front battle. It didn't work as planned but was responsible for sparking an ongoing war that has plagued the world for the better part of three-quarters of a century.

McMahon–Hussein Correspondence 
In 1915, the Sharif of Mecca wrote a letter to the British High Commissioner of Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, asking if the British would support an independent Arab state if the Arabs rebelled against the Ottoman Empire.

The Sharif, Hussein bin Ali, proposed a single Arab state consisting of what is now Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. McMahon counter-offered to exclude Lebanon and the coastal areas of Syria from the proposed Arab state. Some have claimed that Palestine was not included in this Arab state but the proposed boundary (Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea) suggests the then eastern border of Egypt which happens to be the current border between Egypt and Israel. There was nothing special about Palestine at the time, it was a lightly populated backwater of the Ottoman Empire, to suggest it would deserve special treatment.

A series of letter were exchanged between the two men confirming an agreement. These letters began the Arab Revolt that made Lawrence of Arabia famous.

Sykes-Picot Agreement
The French had different plans and wanted to carve up the Ottoman Empire gaining new colonies. A year later, 1916, the British and French drew up a completely different map of the Middle East. The Sykes-Picot map (Sykes and Picot were just a couple of diplomats) was not drawn with any tribal or geographic thoughts in mine.
It allowed for some Arab rule as long as the European powers had full colonial control. And, it did something strange to Palestine. Palestine was to be an international "condominium" ruled by all the European powers.

Balfour Declaration
This is the famous one. In 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote a short letter to the Baron Rothschild. This letter promised British support for a "national homeland" for the Jewish people in Palestine. It is by far the shortest of the three documents.

The Result
The united Arab state promised Hussein bin Ali never happened. France formed colonies out of Lebanon and Syria. Britain took Jordan, Iraq, and Palestine as colonies.

Hussein bin Ali was reduced to declaring himself king of the Arabian Peninsula a throne he lost a few years later to the rival Saud family. One son, Faisal, tried to take control of Syria but he was exiled by the French. The British, feeling sorry for him, set him up on a puppet throne in Iraq. A second son, Abdullah, was the puppet ruler of Jordan; his family still rules Jordan today.

Lebanon didn't gain its independence until 1943, Syria in 1944. Both countries were liberated by the British from the Vichy French.

Iraq was granted nominal independence in 1932 although, as with the United States today, the British maintained a military presence in the country. In 1941, when a coup overthrew the British backed king, Britain declared war to reinstall the monarchy. The last British troops were withdrawn in 1947. Jordan remained under British control until 1946.

T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) drew his own map of how the Middle East should have ended up after WWI. It makes more sense than what actually happened.
The Lawrence of Arabia map.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Poker of Politics

I think I'd rather like to get Boehner, Obama, and Reid into a high stakes poker game.
Boehner is on full tilt. He'll bet wildly on a pair of deuces and the next hand fold pocket aces. He never sticks to a strategy long enough for it to work. Boehner is so emotional he has lavish tells.

Obama thinks he plays tight but he's really just passive. He expects to eventually get a royal flush and clean up and until then he will keep to an ante-fold strategy.

Reid is a predictable chameleon, he always copies the style of whoever is sitting on his right. If that guy raises, Reid raises more; if Boehner cuts spending by $1 trillion, Reid cuts it by $2 trillion.

And all three of them love to bluff when they are holding garbage. All three play like donkeys.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Half of American Don't Pay Taxes

47 percent of Americans don’t pay any taxes. ~ Gretchen Carlson, FOX News
This is one of the great lies of our time. In fact, the opposite is true. Between sales taxes, payroll taxes, property taxes, and all the various other local and federal government fees attached to living, almost all Americans pay taxes.
Proportionally, the rich pay less.
In totality, the American tax system is geared to afflict the working class most severely. On the federal level, salaries are taxed at a higher rate than dividends and capital gains, meaning that people who work for a living pay more than people who live off their investments. With a Social Security salary cap, CEOs who have a salary over $1 million have the same payroll taxes withheld as someone earning one-tenth as much.
There are a myriad of obscure tax breaks and loopholes available only to the wealthy who can afford to hire lobbyists to write exemptions into the tax code. And that doesn't count the tax shelters that allow the wealthy to hide their income overseas. If a middle class taxpayer tried the same tricks he'd be imprisoned for money laundering.

The effect of this lie, promoted heavily by rich media moguls, is that many middle-class Americans have been suckered into demanding that their own taxes be raised so that the wealthy can receive further tax cuts.

The income disparity is reaching levels more appropriate to a feudal society than a democracy.

Additional Reading
Mother Jones (neat graphics)
Wilmette Week (9 things the rich don't want you to know)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Spending Cuts

I've been trying to decide why it is that I can't seem to get worked up about the debt crisis. I've thought I might have to cut back on my Prozac so I can develop the proper sense of panic.

But the fact is that it doesn't matter which side "wins." Cutting government spending in the teeth of a prolonged recession, a Lesser Depression as Paul Krugman calls it, is an insane governmental policy. The debate is less about substance than who will appear to have won. Whoever wins, spending will be cut about the same and the disaster to the economy will be about the same.

The debt debate is like two surgeons arguing about which scalpel to use to cut out a spleen, a number 3 or number 7, while not caring that the patient has not received any anesthesia.
I suggest the Buck 119 hunting knife.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Just Curious

Hedge fund speculators have been short selling in anticipation of a market crash when the US government goes into default. Billions will be made if only Republican obstructionists hold out for just a few more days.

Are speculators paying congressmen to force a default?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dealing With the Debt Debate

As a common citizen, handling the debt/budget negotiations is a lot like handling a killer heatwave.

There is nothing you, or anybody you know, can do about it. All you can do is find a cool place to hunker down and hope the power doesn't go out. You know it will eventually end and you just hope there won't be corpses lying on the sidewalk when it does.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Terms Used in the Budget Debate

  • Whenever anyone attacked "class warfare" it is because the poor are being mean to the rich.
  • "Shared sacrifice" is always defined as significantly reducing the quality of life for the working poor while the idle rich are inconvenienced a tiny tittle.
  • If "the wealthy create jobs" they are doing a piss poor jobs of it. Jobs are created in a vibrant economy and that happens when wealth is shared over a large proportion of the population. When money is concentrated in few pockets an economy stagnates. In the 1950's through the 1970's the average CEO compensation was about 30 times the average worker. Today CEOs are paid 340 times their employees salaries.
  • "Raising taxes hurts the economy." In 1952 unemployment was 3% and the highest tax rate was 92% on income over $400,000 ($3.2 million adjusted for inflation). Today, unemployment is 9.2% and the highest tax rate of 35% is hit at only $379,000 of income. There is no higher tax rate for the super wealthy. (source)

    Thursday, July 21, 2011

    China's Space Program

    The landing of the Space Shuttle Atlantis marks the unofficial passing of the baton of space exploration to China. The United States may still send the occasional scientist to the International Space Station hitchhiking aboard a Soyuz. And there will be unmanned probes blasting off every so often. But the era begun 50 years ago by John Kennedy is over.

    The Chinese are the ambitious explorers now. The Chinese have sent unmanned missions to the moon as a prelude to having men plant the flag of the People's Republic on the moon's surface. They are also planning to build their own space station. China will most likely be the first country to colonize the moon, perhaps as early as 2025.

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    The Story is Bribery Not Phone Hacking

    Yes, it is corporate policy at News Corp. to hack and wiretap politicians, celebrates, and anyone else unfortunate enough to become newsworthy. And, yes, that is very illegal. But by far the bigger scandal is only rarely whispered about, News Corp's widespread bribery and blackmail practices.

    Murdoch's minions have bribed and blackmailed politicians and police officials on at least four continents. It is kind of hard to tell where  the bribery carrot stops and the blackmail stick begins. Take Scotland Yard, for example. The ties between the Yard and Murdoch are incestuous and it is impossible to tell if the loyalty of Britain's top police officials to Murdoch was bought by money or threats.

    Only a blind fool would believe Scotland Yard's story on the death of Sean Hoare. Hoare was the whistleblower in the News Corp scandal. Before bothering to investigate, the police quickly declared the death unsuspicious. Too many powerful people - the Murdochs, the Prime Minister, and Scotland Yard officials - benefit from the death (and a cover up of that death) of Hoare. "Suspicious" should be the default position until proven conclusively otherwise.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Implausible Deniablity

    Rupert Murdoch's sycophants and brownnosers are all over the place claiming that Rupert is just a senile puppy who would never do anything the least bit naughty. They claim that this man who bragged for decades about being a hands-on newspaperman is now lost and out of touch. Poppycock!

    What is known:
    • For a long time Rupert has used his media empire to build a political power base.
    • He has used his news organizations to promote his friends and slander his enemies.
    • His people have wiretapped others for a very long time both to get information to extort political concessions and to attack rivals such as former British PM Gordon Brown and MSMBC host Keith Olbermann.
    • His people have bribed policemen in the UK and probably the US. The big unasked question is whether Murdoch successfully bribed Secret Service agents during the Clinton Administration. The answer is almost certainly yes.
    • Rupert has been active in trying to loosen anti-bribery laws.
    What can be deduced:
    • Rupert does not get detailed reports from his employees of their criminal enterprises. Call it plausible deniability or effective delegation, he need only pass his desires along to Roger Ailes and Rebekah Brooks and they'd see to it that his wishes were fulfilled.
    • Rupert knew illegal activity was widespread partly because he tended to hire people with limited scruples but mostly because it is the cultivated atmosphere of News Corp.
    • Everyone involved from Murdoch to Scotland Yard to PM David Cameron have a vested interest in limiting any bribery investigations. The true scope will never be known.

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Catching Up On the World

    I have been enjoying a pleasant weekend. We've had Goldilocks weather here in SoCal (not too hot, not too cold) and unlike, say, the Midwest, California is a state that is, by and large, functioning adequately. Anyhow, it's time to catch up on what I've missed.

    The implosion of Rupert's media empire is a joy to behold. So far it has brought down the head of Scotland Yard, the head of Dow Jones, and a chief aide to the British Prime Minister. The scandal has a fair chance of breaking David Cameron's coalition. Rebekah Brooks (What's with that hair?) has been arrested. The Murdoch spawn is engaging in fratricide. It's so much more entertaining than regular FOX programing.

    Afghanistan Failures
    The brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was assassinated by his bodyguard who was also a CIA asset. There has been a rash of killings of top Afghan officials that the US military is helpless to stop. There are many ways to stage an insurgency, most have nothing to do with the size of your army. 

    National Heatwave
    While Southern California has been unusually mild the rest of the nation is suffering from a killer heatwave sending temperatures well over 100 degrees F. But, the fossil fuel industry assures us, global climate change is still a farce. 

    Minnesota Beer
    It looked like the prospect of running out of booze was going to be the catalyst for a budget deal. Now it seems that Republicans, faced with the opportunity to do something halfway intelligent, are reneging on the deal and are returning to their black caldron to cast bones instead of talking. 

    Wisconsin Apology
    Governor Scott Walker apologized last week on behalf of the people of Wisconsin for them not realizing that he is a genius and they should have acted like the ignorant sheep they are. Walker kind of also apologized to fellow Republicans for leading them blindly into the Valley of the Shadow of Electoral Death without a road map.

    Ladies Soccer
    I don't watch soccer, I prefer curling. Still, I enjoyed the Women's World Cup final mostly because the Japanese women were textbook examples of gritty. Up to yesterday, Japan had never won in 25 matches against the Yanks but they didn't play scared. When they fell behind, twice, they stepped up their intensity. The American women, conversely, played like most American sports (and military) teams. They relied more on raw individual power than subtle teamwork, when they took one goal leads they relaxed expecting American Exceptionalism to carry them to victory, and when they discovered that their Manifest Destiny had betrayed them they panicked and screwed the pooch at the end. 

    A word about Abby Wambach. She not only was the best player on the American squad she was a class act, gracious in defeat.

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Debt Negotiations as Game Theory

    A lot of people have figured out that the debt negotiations going on in Washington is just a high stakes game of chicken.
    Chicken: Game Theory
    Game Theory is what happens when mathematicians try to make themselves useful, they complicate a simple game like chicken. There are only four outcomes - I win if you surrender, the converse, if we both surrender we both lose, if neither surrender we both really lose.
    When everybody plays to win.
    When rational people are involved the result is that both sides surrender (compromise), everybody loses a little face but everybody survives. When chicken becomes interesting, and fuckin' scary, is when crazy people are involved.

    Winning at chicken requires being so insane that everybody knows you'd rather end up a dismembered corpse than let the other side win. This is how Tea Party Republicans play. They would rather see the entire national economy implode than "help Obama."

    President Obama hasn't helped himself get a lose-lose compromise by spending his past two years building a reputation as a unilateral surrenderer. (If you never play hardball people start believing you don't know how.)

    The best result we can hope for is that both sides realize what stupidity they are about to accomplish, they swerve at the last moment and we only get some minor crack-ups in the ditch. But, I'm afraid the testosterone levels have gotten too high. Everybody is intent on winning at any cost, or, more accurately, determined to prevent the other side from winning. Those of us watching from the sidelines may witness a spectacular crash after which we can sop up what's left of the economy with a sponge.

    Personal Note
    I once played chicken. I had flipped off someone who had been tailgating me as he sped past. The guy thought about it for a couple of seconds, did a U-turn, and crossed three lanes of traffic to drive straight at me. I pulled over and let him win. But, did he win? He had been in a hurry and now he was speeding off in the wrong direction.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    Minnesota Going Dry

    Michelle Bachmann's homestate (where serial killer Andrew Cunanan got his start) is about to go dry as alcohol purchase cards expire and the shut down of state services prevents renewal.

    That doesn't mean there will be no more beer in Lake Wobegon. Homebrew bootleggers can fire up their long quiet stills. Perhaps Stearns County can bottle Minnesota 13 again. People can smuggle Labatt's across the border from Canada too, like in the old days. Of course, all that is as illegal now as it was when Dapper Danny Hogan ruled the St. Paul underworld.

    What's interesting is that the effort to solve the budget snafu that caused the state government shutdown may have to take a backseat to the much more important goal of insuring the legal flow of beer continues unabated.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    Dividing California

    There is a movement by a Republican member of the Riverside Board of Supervisors, Jeff Stone, to cut California in twain - a liberal half and a conservative half. Stone is honest about his reasons - he wants to live in a right wing enclave and doesn't want to move to Arizona.

    This is hardly a new idea. By one count there have been 27 different plans for cutting up California. Cut it north and south, east and west. Cut it into thirds. Or even divide it into fourths.

    When Ronald Reagan was governor Democrats wanted to cut out Orange County. Now its conservatives trying to get rid of San Francisco. During the Civil War, pro-slavery Southern California wanted to split from northern California.

    For a long time there has been a movement for the northern counties of California to kidnap the southern counties of Oregon and form the new state of Jefferson. In 1992, the rural northern counties voted to cut up California. The margins were significant but the totals tiny -  Alpine County voted "yes" 306 to 191. None of the big counties bothered to vote on the question.

    Stone's plan will get no farther than any of the previous attempts but it is a mildly entertaining circus.

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    Not Safe at Home

    A man’s house is his castle, for where shall a man be safe if it be not in his house? ~ Sir Edward Coke, 1628
    The story of the Oak Park woman who faces jail time for growing a garden in her front yard got me searching this morning for other examples of how the steel toe of government excess is stomping on people's rights even in their own home.

    Other Evil Vegetable Gardens
    Governments attacking home vegetable gardens appear to be a international phenomenon. In Georgia, a man was fined $5000 for growing too many vegetables in his yard. In British Columbia, Canada the government engaged in a crusade against indoor winter gardens, fining people $5200 for growing vegetables in their basements.

    Wildflowers Lead to Arrest
    A woman, Verna Gates, in Alabama let her natural wildflower garden get a little to natural for the tastes of some of her neighbors. Hers is not just some random weed patch. She is a renown botanist carefully tending rare plants native to her state.That doesn't matter to the local government. To them anything that isn't an English rose or lawn are weeds. So Verna was arrested for violating the weed abatement ordinance. The case went to trial in May, she won.

    Utah Declares Desert Illegal
    In Orem, a woman stopped watering her lawn because water was too expensive. She let the lawn revert to its natural state. In Utah, that would be desert. Police handcuffed the 70 year old woman and threw her in jail. The court ended up fining the woman $100 and placing her on six-months probation for refusing to water a lawn.

    First Amendment Void in Kansas
    In Valley Center, Kansas a man, Jarrod West, spent months trying to get his local government to do its duty and clear public drainage. Frustrated, Mr. West put up a sign in his yard asking the city to fix the problem. City Administrator Joel Pile saw the sign and acted promptly. He ordered the police to arrest and jail Mr. West pending a $10,000 bond. Pile stretched out the action right up to the trial date before dropping all charges. Of course, by then Mr. West had paid thousands of dollars in his defense.

    Police Are Camera Shy
    Things like this are happening all over the country. Police are beating the crap, or Tasering the crap, out of some poor, hapless nebbish. A curious bystander pulls out his cellphone to film the incident. The cops notice the bystander and turn their accumulated rage on him. If the bystander is lucky he won't have the crap beaten out of him, too, he'll just be arrested because in many states it is illegal to film an on-duty cop.

    Figure you might be safe standing on your own property while filming a public street? Numb nut. If your think you're safe in your own home you deserve to have the crap beaten out of you.

    Another thing that happens all the time is police raiding the wrong house. Sometimes they kill an innocent occupant. Sometimes they will just terrorize the children. No one is immune from being dragged out of their house in the middle of the night at gunpoint; not even judges. Will the police at least pay for damages when they make a mistake? Guess again. And they never learn from their mistakes.

    Sunday, July 10, 2011

    The Oak Park Vegetable War

    Some slogans for the Oak Park Veggie War.
    • If you outlaw vegetables only outlaws will have vegetables.
    • Terrorists want you to grow grass not food.
    • Sow the seeds of prosperity, grow your own vegetables.
    • Freedom is the right to grow your own food.
    • Home grown food is healthier.

    Saturday, July 09, 2011

    Insanity Times Three

    Grow a Zucchini, Go to Jail
    It's the American Police State run amok. In Oak Park, Michigan a woman is facing three months in jail for planting a vegetable garden in her front yard. Once, this would have been hailed as an act of patriotism. Now it is akin to prostitution or public drunkenness.

    Obama Holds Self Hostage
    When I read that President Obama was threatening to veto any debt limit deal that wasn't sufficiently austere I couldn't help but think of the movie Blazing Saddles. You know the scene where Sheriff Bart holds a gun to his own head saying, "Hold it! Next man makes a move, the nigger gets it!" I'd like to think that the people negotiating this nation's economic future knew what they were doing. Unfortunately, I no longer believe in fairy tales.

    Pity the Bankers
    While Oak Park wants to jail a woman for planting tomatoes, the Feds are promising to be more gentle on the bankers who defrauded millions of Americans. It seems the Feds are concerned that prosecuting the people who robbed innocent Americans of their homes would have a chilling effect on future criminal behavior by the nation's bankers.

    In essence, we have to forgive John Dillinger because he's good for the Tommy gun industry.

    Friday, July 08, 2011

    Killing Social Security

    "If they would rather die,'' said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."
    Democrats are proposing playing with the Consumer Price Index as a way of cutting Social Security benefits for current recipients. 

    The proposal is to used something called the Chained CPI. There is no clear definition of what the C-CPI is. Every explanation I've found is so heavily jargonised (Warning: The prior link was written by a statistician) as to be meaningless to anyone without a Master's degree in obfuscation. Simply put, the C-CPI assumes that people won't buy sweaters in the winter if t-shirts are on cheaper.

    Statisticians have created a CPI that is more appropriate. The CPI-Elderly looks at the basket of goods that the elderly purchase - health care, food, energy. The CPI-E shows what anyone living in the real world knows, inflation hits the elderly harder than other people in large part because of heath care costs.

    But this adjustment to Social Security has nothing to do with the real world, compassion, or even the Ten Commandments ("Honor thy mother and father"). Even though the CPI-E is far more appropriate, the politicians will choose the index most likely to starve grandma into an early grave because it is all about lowering taxes on the wealthy.

    A note to President Obama: Accept this and I may still end up voting for your reelection but don't expect enthusiasm, don't expect money, don't expect anything more than "my sick bastard is marginally better than their sicker bastard." And, no, this is not the change I sought.

    Thursday, July 07, 2011

    Thought for the Day

    Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) is now proposing lowering the debt ceiling. ~ TPM
    They say that leadership is the ability to find a parade and get in front. But what should you do if the parade is marching towards a cliff?

    Raise Taxes on the Poor to Pay for Tax Cuts for the Rich

    It's not enough that the poor clean the toilets of the rich. The poor also ought to buy yachts for the rich.

    When I read this morning that Rep. Eric Cantor was looking favorably on the "tax reform" being proposed by Pres. Obama I got a sick feeling in my stomach. Nobody is being specific on what loopholes to close and what the reform will look like. We won't know until they emerge from the smoke filled rooms with a done deal, and then it will be too late.

    But we know what Republicans want:
    • Revenue neutrality - Any increases in tax revenue must be offset by reducing someone else's tax burden.
    • Eliminate the EITC - Republicans hate the Earned Income Tax Credit because it reduces the tax burden on the working poor and, hence, is unfair to the rich.
    • Cut Capital Gains Taxes - Unearned income from capital gains and dividends is taxes at a much lower rate than earned income from working. It's a gift to the idle rich from the working class. Republicans want to abolish capital gains and dividend taxes altogether.
    • Cut Corporate Taxes - This will certainly be in the mix because it is the only thing Tim Geithner cares about.
    The ideal Republican tax reform would be to eliminate capital gains taxes, lower corporate taxes, and make up the revenue loss by eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit. At the macro level it might be revenue neutral, although probably not as the poor won't be able to pay enough in taxes to make for what the rich will be keeping.

    On the individual level it will be a double boon for the rich. Corporate tax cuts will increase dividend payouts and stock prices, ergo capital gains, on which the rich will be paying nothing in taxes. For the working poor it will be a cruel stab in the back. Increasing taxes on people barely getting by means starvation, homelessness, and infant mortality.

    See Also:
    Republicans Propose More Tax Cuts for the Rich
    Orrin Hatch, The Poor Need to Do More
    Over 100,000 Rich Folk Pay Zero Taxes

    Wednesday, July 06, 2011

    Next on the TSA Agenda

    Will be requiring random exploratory surgery for people wanting to board commercial airlines.

    Foreign terrorists want to implant explosive devices in fliers

    My Complete, Unedited Adventures on Jury Duty


    Tuesday, July 05, 2011

    FOX News Step-Father

    The News of the World is part of the News Corp. family of Rupert Murdoch. It is to British print what "FOX and Friends" is to American TV.

    It has been discovered that Murdoch's Brit tabloid had hacked and manipulated the cell phone messages of a kidnapped girl with the apparent goal of heightening the suspense of the kidnapping and prolonging the story after the girl had been murdered.

    Of course it was hideous, vile, and obscene. Also very illegal. But what more can you expect from Rupert Murdoch and Friends.

    And In New York
    Another Murdoch paper, the New York Post may have libeled the victim in the Strauss-Kahn rape case in a depraved attempt to boost sales.

    Forget the quaint concept of Yellow Journalism. Murdoch journalism is shit brown.

    Monday, July 04, 2011

    Three Facts About the Founding Fathers

    There is a myth that America's Founding Fathers got democracy right first time out and actually believed the fine words in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

    Right to Vote
    When the Constitution was signed the right to vote was only granted to white males who owned property. A condition some in the Tea Party movement want to restore. Many states limited voting to owners of at least 50 acres of land. It wasn't until 1856 that the last state, North Carolina, lifted the property ownership requirement for voting.

    After the Civil War, poll taxes were installed to insure that voting was a white privilege and not a universal right. The current voter ID movement is intended to have a similar disenfranchising effect. They remained until the 1960's. Women, of course, didn't gain the right to vote until 1920.

    Freedom of Speech
    The ink wasn't dry on the Bill of Rights when the Founding Fathers made it a crime to oppose any measure of the US Government. The Sedition Act had a fine up to $5000, equal to $60,000 in today's money, and carried a five year prison sentence. A member of Congress Matthew Lyon was found guilty of describing President John Adams of "ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice." Lyon was reelected while serving his prison sentence.

    Since then speaking out against actions of the government has frequently been met with extreme reactions. The modern fight against free speech has been to herd it into isolated "free speech zones" or drown it under corporate capital.

    The great founding families of Virginia - Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lee - all owned slaves. They couldn't vote unless they own property and slaves were property. The history of American presidents is loaded with slaves.
    • Washington owned over 200 slaves and freed just one slave on his death. Martha freed the others two years later. 
    • Jefferson freed his children by Sally Hemings on his death but no others. He never freed Sally.
    • Madison never freed a single of his slaves.
    • Neither did Monroe nor Andrew Jackson.
    • Martin Van Buren of New York own only on slave in his life and he ran away. Upon recovering his slave Van Buren sold him for $50.
    • William Henry Harrison tried to expand slavery into Indiana.
    • John Tyler, James Polk, and Zachary Taylor all owned and vehemently defended slavery. Taylor was the last president to own slaves while in office (1850). (source)
    While it is true that some of these slave holding presidents opined against slavery in private correspondence, none did so publicly nor spent any political energy opposing slavery. Certainly there was no "tireless" effort. Some northern founding fathers, like Ben Franklin and Sam Adams, did work tirelessly to oppose slavery. Other northern founders like Alexander Hamilton were mostly accepting of slavery and were certainly willing to profit from it.

    Friday, July 01, 2011

    American Police State: Taser, a Recreational Torture Division

    The Taser has been a boon for law enforcement officers.

    Before, when police wanted to torment people with  mental or physical disabilities they had to resort to beating them with batons (In this case five Seattle police beat a mentally disabled teenager for jaywalking. Actually, many officers prefer using a flashlight to a baton, it's metallic casing give a satisfying ping when striking a skull.) or shooting them (This video shows Los Angeles police shooting at a man 81 times. He was armed with a sandal. Warning: the video is graphic and sickening. By the by, the police, in their enthusiasm, also shot and killed their own police dog.).

    Police brutality statistics are hardly accurate since most are not reported ("I won't phony up felony charges against you if you don't talk about my beating the shit out of you.") or filed as righteous shootings (Like the off-duty officer who shot an eight year-old child because his mother cut him off in a parking lot. The mother ended up going to jail for getting her son shot.). 

    But the Taser is a game changer. Batons leave welts and bruises that look really bad on television. Guns, well, they make fairly obvious holes in a corpse. But a Taser leave no marks at all. Then there is the bald-faced lie that Tasers are safe.

    Police don't categorize Tasers as weapons but control instruments. Statistics on Taser deaths are hard to come by because police, courts, and Taser International have all worked together to prevent Taser deaths from being declared, in fact, Taser deaths. When they kill it is by inducing heart attacks that can be and are blamed on anything else.

    The UN has declared the Taser a torture device. This is something that police have been quick to understand and is now often used by officers to punish someone who annoys them. And since the Taser is officially defined as non-lethal when it does kill (Which it does with great frequency - see here and here.) it is always declared an accident.

    Police believe it is okay to Taser children, nudes, the elderly and infirm (In this case for refusing to go to the hospital because he didn't have insurance.), and the handicapped (In this case the police Tasered a man in a wheelchair because he had been in the restroom too long.), or any combination of these (In this case a policeman Tasered a child because the cop mistook a speech impediment for disrespect.). Hell, police will Taser citizens for trying to save lives.

    If this article is too be believed, police in the United States kill nearly as many people with Tasers as they do with guns. But, at least when police shoot at someone it because they are trying to kill him. When police Taser a person like as not it is because watching them twitching and screaming in agony is just so damn funny (This last one is a purely recreational Tasering by Georgia cops.).

    Shorter Thomas Sowell

    Democracy can only work if everybody always agrees with me. ~ Is Democracy Viable?
    Thomas Sowell is one of those theoretical libertarians who only started worshiping that faith after leaving the real world for the cloistered halls of government funded universities. In his entire life he has never lived the religion he would impose on all of us.

    The "Shorter" concept is frequently used by Sadly, No! from whom I have stolen it.