Monday, June 30, 2008

Incarceration: the key to a safe and healthy society

We put a lot of people in prison in this country. More than any other country, in fact. We incarcerate more total people. We incarcerate a higher ratio of people. We are the undisputed winners when it comes to locking people up.

Currently, we have 2.3 million people behind bars. Almost 1% of the total population. A ratio five times greater than the next highest ratio of any western democracy.

Putting someone in prison is very nearly the worst thing you can do to a person. Taking a person's personal liberty is no small matter. Merely restricting a person's ability to move about freely is a serious punishment. Confining a person to an 80sqft cage is a very severe punishment. But then consider that if you're in prison you can expect:

1. to have your privacy reduced to zero;
2. to be forced to comply with hundreds of detailed rules and regulations regarding your daily activities;
3. to be systematically dehumanized by guards who are no better than common thugs;
4. to be beaten by guards, for which you as a practical matter have no legal recourse;
5. to be beaten by inmates, for which you actually have no legal recourse;
6. to be raped or otherwise molested by inmates;
7. to have your toilet facilities be in the same room you spend the rest of your day in;
8. to have your cellmate's toilet facilities be in the same room you spend the rest of your day in;
9. to never get another decent job during the rest of your entire life; and
10. etc.

And yet most judges in this country hand out prison sentences like handing out candy at Halloween. Especially if you happen to be a brown person, or someone who cannot afford competent legal representation.

But that's ok. Because as long as you mind your own business and don't do anything wrong, you'll never be sent to prison, right? That is, unless you happen to somehow get on the wrong side of a dishonest policeman or an overzealous prosecutor.

Or unless you commit one of the literally thousands of offenses for which you can be sent to prison in modern America. Some of these include:

1. growing a certain kind of plant in your backyard;
2. attempting to possess a certain kind of plant;
3. offering to accept money for a handjob;
4. offering to pay money for a handjob;
5. offering to find someone who will accept money for a handjob;
6. offering to find someone who will pay money for a handjob;
7. hosting a poker game where a collection is taken up to cover refreshments;
8. playing poker online;
9. making a statement in the course of a police investigation that turns out to be untrue (unless you are the police, in which case it is explicitly NOT a crime but rather an essential part of your training);
10. downloading certain kinds of pictures onto your computer;
11. sending certain types of emails;
12. publishing certain types of software;
13. appointing a campaign contributor to a hospital board;
14. sending insulting text messages; and
15. etc.

HipHopLawyer believes there should be a very high bar for things that will get you sent to prison. A near-comprehensive list off of the top of my head might be: murder, robbery, rape, aggravated assault, major theft and fraud, along with variations on these and possibly a few more. Other crimes should be punishable by less drastic penalties, such as fines, loss of privileges, home confinement, and the like.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Oath of Office. U.S. Congress. Adopted 1884

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

Amendment 4. Search and Seizure. Ratified 12/15/1791

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Friday, June 20, 2008

go sell crazy somewhere else

Last night I sent an email to the Obama campaign to ask why he had not at that time followed up on his rhetoric against warrantless wiretapping and telecom immunity by actually doing something to stop it. (A lot of good that did, since today he came out for warrantless wiretapping and telecom immunity.)

But so now they've got my email address. And quite predictably, just now I got an email asking for money. My response to them might have been a bit, uh, intemperate.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Next President of the United States...!

Obama Spokesman: I don't know his stance on FISA

Barack Obama is keeping his position on the new FISA bill close to the vest -- so close, in fact, that even his aides don't know what it is!

During a conference call this afternoon with reporters, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs was first asked whether the Obama campaign would schedule time for the candidate to vote in the Senate next week, and how Obama would actually vote on the policy. Gibbs initially said he didn't know about the scheduling, without addressing the main subject.

Later on, another reporter asked specifically about Obama's position. "I better check on that, too," Gibbs said. "I honestly -- that's what I need to work on, as well."

It certainly is striking that Obama is now the leader of the Democratic Party, but he has yet to say anything on such a crucial public issue. Obama has in the past opposed lawsuit immunity for the telecom companies that participated in warrantless wiretapping, but neither he nor his campaign have commented on his position for the latest bill.

Whine Addendum

TPM reports that Obama is expected to raise upwards of $500M for his presidential campaign. Not one dime of which will come from yours truly.

Speaking of which, let me recommend this post from Who Is IOZ. That is all.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Adventures in legislating: our Democrat-controlled Congress

Not surprising, but certainly galling, is today's news that the House will tomorrow take up two pieces of legislation combined into one big pile of filthy human waste: (1) $165 Billion in appropriations to continue George and Dick's Excellent Iraqi Adventure for the foreseeable future, and (2) the Protect AT&T Act. They will both pass, then they'll both pass the Senate, then the Chimp will sign them, and in a couple of decades people will look back and wonder what the fuck all these people were thinking as they drove this country, with eyes wide open, straight off a goddamn cliff.

I was going to write a bunch of stuff about how corrupt is the "leadership" among our political class, how they are dishonest, have no principles, and have no higher purpose other than remaining in power, and how they will do whatever is necessary to pursue that goal no matter how much -- or who or what -- is destroyed as a result. But why bother? Click the link and read the article [skip down to Updates III and IV if you'd like to see the really demoralizing part]. Or don't. I really don't care.

I think from now on I'm going to be posting a lot on subjects along the lines of "what I had for lunch today", "what I watched on teevee last night", "hey, check out this fucked up youtube video", "wow, the chick in this picture is really hot/fat/fucked up/etc", "did you hear about that town over in ______ where they passed a law that says ____? good or bad? discuss", or the always popular "don't you hate it when __________ happens to you right when you're about to ________? I really hate that.".

Or maybe I'd be a happier blogger if I wrote about how "Wow, gas sure is expensive these days. It's too bad those craaaazy hippies won't let oil companies drill in _________, because that would, like, lower the price of gas and stuff." And it sure would be less mentally stressful to to blog on the topic of "Those Arabs sure are a bunch of scary brown terrorists. We need to figure out more ways we can find 'em and kill 'em." Or maybe "We're at war! We need to support our troops and win the war for victory over those terrorist Iraqis who we're at war with, in Iraq. Success! Victory!"

Or maybe I'll go mow the lawn, make myself a stiff drink (or two or several), and stop reading the news for a while. But before I do, here's a big FUCK YOU! to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Steny Hoyer, and all the rest of you rats in congress. Go fuck yourselves, and here's hoping that sometime very soon you're all voted out in favor of the GOP, who may (also) be slimy, power-hungry assholes, but at least they make no secret of where they stand. And while I'm at it: Obama, fuck you too!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Offshore Drilling Boondoggle, Part II

Some time ago a certain business acquaintance of mine, in response to a particularly thorny strategic problem, sent me an email in which he laid out a fairly detailed scenario of -- shall we say -- questionable validity which he hoped would help to resolve the matter. He followed his complex and meandering narrative by asking: "Can you arrange such story toward [name of company]?"

I'm not sure if it was intended this way (the man is not a native English-speaker), but I found this rather peculiar formulation to be succinct and humorous while at the same time conveying quite a bit of finely nuanced subtext. I interpreted it to mean something along the lines of: I know this sounds far-fetched and somewhat pathetic, but it is the best I could come up with in these very difficult circumstances, so I would appreciate it very much if you could apply yourself to improving upon it and very carefully conveying it in its refined form to [name of company] in such a way as to make us not appear to be ridiculous, incompetent, or corrupt.

Since that time, I've found myself in meetings with people at my own organization, after hearing someone come up with a semi-plausible strategy or solution, saying things like "Yeah, well, ok, I'll see if I can arrange that kind of story toward [whoever]."

Speaking of which, such a phrase -- or one very similar -- was probably uttered more than once during what was apparently a pow-wow of GOP higher ups recently held to arrange toward the public the story of how we must (MUST!) rescind the moratorium against drilling for oil in U.S. coastal waters and in the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve, because this is the only (the ONLY!) way we can quickly and effectively drive down the price of oil and relieve the suffering of consumers at the gas pump.

There must have been such a pow-wow, because these people are relentlessly pushing this agenda in recent days. As I mentioned in the post below, I don't claim to have any knowledge about whether we should allow any of this drilling. The pro- and anti-environmentalism arguments don't interest me a whole lot. What interests me is what the real agenda is here.

As we all know beyond any doubt, Republicans are notoriously pro-consumer and care very deeply about economically disadvantaged people who are having a difficult time dealing with the fact that the cost of putting gasoline in their vehicles has increased by a factor of 4 since 2001. Clearly, the two ex-oilmen running the Executive Branch have a built-in incentive to do everything within their power to reduce the costs of fuel and to transmit the corresponding benefits on to lowly consumers of such fuel. Right? Right.

So one might have cause to be skeptical when one reads that the Department of Energy has estimated the ANWR reserves at 10 billion barrels, and has predicted that immediately beginning exploitation of those reserves would result in oil reaching the market in significant volume in no less than 9 years, with peak production occurring in 21 years, then going on to predict that such an infusion of production into the market would decrease the price of oil by a maximum of $0.75 per barrel, thereby reducing the price of gasoline to the consumer in the astounding amount of $0.02 per gallon. In 21 years. And then given that the currently-off-limits coastal reserves are estimated at double that of ANWR, rescinding all moratoriums would decrease the price of oil and the price of gasoline by $2.25/bbl and $0.6 $0.06, respectively. In 21 years. And, further, that given the fact that the prices of oil and of gasoline have increased in the amounts of $100/bbl and $3.00 per gallon, respectively, over the last 7 years, then rescinding all relevant moratoriums would mean exactly FUCK-ALL to your average consumer. In 21 years.

The point being: given all of that, which is well-known to all kinds of people in the energy sector (and undoubtedly in the petro-political sector), are we really supposed to believe this story that is being arranged toward us? That these people, all of whom are themselves inextricably intertwined with and/or funded by oil interests, truly see the purpose of rescinding these moratoriums as benefiting us, the lowly gasoline consumers? I think you know the answer to that one.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Adventures in persuasion techniques: your modern GOP

I don't pretend to know the ins and outs of why we should or should not allow oil to be drilled off the coast of Florida. But I've been around awhile, and I know a crock of shit when I see one.

Apparently Cheney and other high level Republicans, as well as their water-carriers in the punditocracy, have been going around recently peddling the following set of facts and conclusions drawn therefrom:

(1) China, under leases obtained from Cuba, is currently -- right now, as we speak -- drilling for oil off the coast of Florida;
(2) the U.S., by law, does not allow such drilling; and
(3) because (1) is true, we should change (2).

Get that? Because China is drilling for oil off the Florida coast, we should do the same. Which doesn't strike me as a particularly compelling argument, but I guess I can see how it would be persuasive to some.

On the other hand: China is most certainly not drilling for oil off the coast of Florida. So say geologists, petro-industry experts, Western diplomats stationed in Cuba, Florida congressmen, etc. Pretty much everyone who actually knows anything about the matter.

You should read the whole article (pretty funny, with a nice flat headline), but here's a snip: "Jorge Pinon, an energy fellow with the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami and an expert in oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico" had this to say: "China is not drilling in Cuba's Gulf of Mexico waters, period."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

coming out of the woodwork

Liberal Lean is baiting the bigot/shit-for-brains element again. The comments are entirely predictable, especially if you've read Gleemonex's post from the other day on the topic (she calls it "Mental Quicksand", but I think Mental Septic Tank is more accurate). I've sworn off reading most of the comment threads over there, but I didn't have the self-control to avoid this one.

Also, yesterday I received a forwarded email which, among others, contains the following statements (it's in ALL CAPS, but I'll spare you):

1. "[Obama] has not at any time during the campaign revealed what he stands for [or] what he believes in." It goes on to state that Obama talks "unceasingly" about change, but won't give any specifics. Needless to say, this must only come from someone who is not at all interested in finding out, since many of Obama's speeches are packed with detailed policy proposals, and his campaign website has long, dense position papers addressing each and every significant issue in the campaign.

2. "[Obama and his evil terrorist-loving wife] are on the verge of transforming the greatest country in the world into an Islamic nation." Right. Because they're both "Islamic". Just like their racist preacher.

3. Obama is funded by money "donated to the campaign by middle-eastern forces which are very anonymous." Hmm. Now that I think about it, this is actually possible. We should get the FEC to look into this. Fortunately for us, campaigns are required by law to keep detailed records regarding each donor and each donation. But then again, foreign donations are not legal, and neither are anonymous donations. Still though, there ought to be an investigation, because it might just be that our Islamic enemies have millions of agents posing as U.S. citizens, all donating to Obama in small amounts to stay under the radar. I hope we find out soon, because I'm terrified by this possibility.

For bonus wingnuttery, check out this Liberal Lean thread, where lots of backwards, barely-literate lovers of freedom are, in response to today's Supreme Court opinion, offering their expert legal analysis in support of the arbitrary detention of brown people that they don't like and the abolition of habeas corpus. Now that, my friends, is what I call freedom!

Just to reiterate, then:

Repeatedly harassing an underling with crude and dirty (not to mention bizarre) sex talk = an integral part of a white affluent suburban values system.

Adolescents sharing pictures of boobies amongst themselves = shocking, inner-city-like depravity.

Bill O'Reilly is a racist. A really, really stupid one.

During a story about how some high schoolers took cell phone camera pictures of their classmates exposing their breasts, and then emailed them around to their friends, the Loofah Man had this to say:
But it's an amazing amount of kids involved with this -- 20 -- in an affluent school district. This isn't, you know, the inner city; you would think that these kids would have some kind of a values system.
Because, as we all know, affluent white suburban kids aren't into boobies. It's only those dirty, sex-crazed negroes and spics who get aroused by and/or curious about seeing their peers naked.

Heh. A Google search of "Bill O'Reilly + loofah" returns 22,000+ results. And if you search for "Bill O'Reilly + falafel" you get over 59,000. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Not too important"

John McCain, fact-challenged, out-of-touch presidential candidate, suggested this morning on the Today show that the question of when we bring our troops home from Iraq is "not too important."

And it isn't. Not to John McCain, at least. To the folks mucking around the desert in 120 degree heat, every moment fearing they will be shot or blown to bits by the local citizenry who decidedly do not want them there, and to the families of those folks struggling to pay their bills and raise their children without them (all while suffering under $4.00/gal gas prices driven by $140/barrel oil, which is in turn driven by, among other things, the troops' presence in Iraq), I would hazard a guess it is at least somewhat important.

Meanwhile, the current occupant of the White House has his minions "negotiating" a "status of forces agreement" with the Iraqi government which will "setting out the legal rights and responsibilities of U.S. troops in Iraq".

But let's stop right there and define our terms:

(1) the term "negotiating" as used herein means: shoving down the throat through any means available;
(2) the term "status of forces agreement" as used herein means: treaty, provided, however, that nothing herein shall be construed to imply that said "status of forces agreement" must, or will be, submitted to Congress for its advice and consent as would be necessary in the case of a "treaty";
(3) the term "setting out the legal rights and responsibilities of U.S. troops in Iraq" as used herein means: occupation of Iraq by U.S. troops.

Ok then. So, among other things, this treaty will dictate that the U.S. retain 58 "long-term" (but not permanent!) military bases in the country, that U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors be immune from Iraqi laws, that the U.S. military control Iraqi airspace, and various other provisions of the kind which you would expect.

As you might also expect, certain shrill voices have been heard to complain about this. According to the article, "some" in Iraq view such a deal as "a form of continued occupation". Heh. One Iraqi critic states that the agreement might "lead to the colonization of Iraq". Giggle. Those silly Iraqis, going on and on about their "sovereignty". Classic!

Then we are treated to this gem: "Absent the agreements or the extension of the U.N. mandate, U.S. troops would have no legal basis to remain in Iraq." I wonder, would that be the same U.N. mandate that was passed only after top officials from the U.S. and British governments, in support thereof, unloaded upon the international community a pile of steaming bullshit, since proven almost 100% false? Because if it is, then I'd say the "legal basis" for remaining in Iraq -- in terms of validity -- closely approximates the legal basis for the Germans being in Poland some decades ago.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

"I'd go down on a lawman for a gallon of gas"

This news will make at least two people of my acquaintance very very happy:

Pickup truck, SUV sales run out of gas; Hummer brand slated for possible termination.
Of the many models crippling GM sales, the worst have borne the Hummer nameplate. In May, Hummer purchases declined 60%, and through the first five months of the year it is the marque that has slipped the most, down 36%, placing it behind brands such as Chrysler, Bentley and even Maybach. The Hummer H3 gets an average of 15 miles per gallon, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. [emphasis added. Wow!]

"At this point, we are considering all options for the Hummer brand," Wagoner said. "Everything from a complete revamp of the product lineup to partial or complete sale of the brand."
And regarding the precipitous overall decline in SUV sales related by the article, someone needs to tell that to the recalcitrant Toyota salesmen I've been speaking with recently w/r/t a potential acquisition of one of their SUVs.

[post title from here, though (oddly) IMDB got it wrong]

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Probably not the same guy...

In my capacity as Lawyer-but-not-Hip-Hop-Lawyer, I was recently contacted by a person who requested -- quite stridently -- in a very demanding fashion -- in other words, demanded -- that I help him solve a problem he is having. This person does not work at my company. He is not one of our customers or business partners, and -- in short -- has no relationship with me or my company, professional or otherwise.

Amid all of the guy's staccato threats, I was able to determine with some clarity the nature of his complaint: my company [allegedly] has been running banner ads on a site which has editorialized extensively against him, in a very crude and impolite manner. Unfortunately, prior to viewing the actual content of the site, I had, early in this person's discourse, been led to believe that the site was using racial hate speech and graphic pornography and scatological imagery to make its attacks on him.

At which point I, at some pains to interject, said, well, obviously we wouldn't want to be associated with that kind of thing, so if you'll direct me to where our banner ad is on the site, I'll make sure it is removed. Later, I was able to make the determination that although the site did make a passing reference to the man's heritage as a, uh, Semitic personage, it was probably intended as a reference to his very out-front championing of Jewish (or maybe Israeli) causes and, connectedly, his own [allegedly] strident racism against persons of Arabic (and Persian) backgrounds, and that the pornographic and scatological imagery was cartoonish (at best).

But I digress. Because I really couldn't care less who is right, who is wrong, and what their stupid beef is all about. Just another of the millions and millions of little dust-ups happening daily on these here inter-tubes. Don't care, don't wanna hear about it. But if this guy cares enough to harass me about a commercially insignificant banner ad, then fine, I'll get it taken down.

But and so then, the guy says, alright well that's a good start, and I'll guess you owe me a debt of gratitude for helping you out in this way, but now there's something you can do for me, to, you know, avoid having me prosecute a civil suit against you based on my preposterous and legally absurd claims: go ahead, right now, and contact your ad rep at Google, and explain to them in excruciating detail exactly why you want this ad removed, viz., that this site is illegally denigrating me in a most crude, impolite, and illegal manner, and further use your power as a Google customer to urge -- nay, DEMAND -- that Google cease doing business with this site.

Naturally, I was reluctant to accede to this request. The guy is flat loony. This was yesterday. And now, today, imagine my surprise as I read this article and have no other choice but to conclude that the identity of this person was evidently none other than Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister of the country of Israel, who, in addition to (apparently) haranguing your humble blogger on the telephone, has also been busy preparing to go to Washington to make a few requests of our President, Mr. George W Bush:

"Citing sources close to the Israeli prime minister, Yediot Achronot reported on its front page Wednesday that Olmert, who is due to hold closed-door talks with Bush in Washington, will say that 'time is running out' on diplomatic efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program.

"The United States should therefore prepare to attack Iran, Olmert will tell Bush, according to Yediot."

Ok, so let me get this straight, Mr. Olmert. One of your neighbors, who has [reportedly] made various and sundry threats and comments derogatory to your country, is [allegedly] plotting to construct a weapon which could only be used against your country, a country (yours) which has a relatively huge defense budget, a highly efficient, deadly, battle-tested military with the latest and greatest in weapons technology, and a verified arsenal of deliverable thermonuclear weapons. And you want us to preemptively attack this neighbor of yours??

Thanks for your input, buddy, but I kinda think we'll go ahead and take a pass on all that.

Is our children learning?

Now that creationism and "intelligent design" have been relegated by courts to the dustbin of fundie anti-science, wingnuts have seized upon the next big thing in their quest to further scramble the brains of our nation's youth: "strengths and weaknesses". According to this NYT story, this concept -- teaching young science students about how Evolution fails to (yet) explain every single detail about Life on Earth -- is being pushed by a near-majority of the Texas State Board of Education for inclusion in the textbooks which will be used in Texas science classrooms over the next decade.

So... yawn. These same people keep bringing back the same old crap, and it keeps getting slapped into the third row by non-stupid members of our nation's judiciary, usually after mobs of angry screaming biologists with many jumbles of letters after their names state unequivocally, once again, that none of this stuff is in dispute by anyone who is recognized as an actual scientist.

But what I like is these people they wheel out to front this b.s. Witness one Dr. Don McLeroy (and, before you ask, no, he is not a doctor of biology, nor a doctor of medicine, but rather a dentist):

Dr. McLeroy believes that Earth’s appearance is a recent geologic event — thousands of years old, not 4.5 billion. “I believe a lot of incredible things,” he said, “The most incredible thing I believe is the Christmas story. That little baby born in the manger was the god that created the universe.”

But Dr. McLeroy says his rejection of evolution — “I just don’t think it’s true or it’s ever happened” — is not based on religious grounds. Courts have clearly ruled that teachings of faith are not allowed in a science classroom, but when he considers the case for evolution, Dr. McLeroy said, “it’s just not there.”

“My personal religious beliefs are going to make no difference in how well our students are going to learn science,” he said.

To which I say: please, God, let's hope so.

Though let's not take it as a given, however, since in addition to being a crackerjack practitioner of the dental arts, Mr. Dr. McLeroy also happens to be the chairman of the Texas State Board of Education.


And in case it isn't sufficiently obvious, I am not herein denying the existence of [G]od (though neither am I affirming it, obviously), but rather pointing out the very simple and hopefully self-evident proposition that many bible verses (as well as those of other religious texts) are, quite possibly, metaphors. Let me say that again: METAPHORS. Get it? kthxbai