Sunday, September 23, 2012
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
On this year's California ballot there are two propositions that deal with crime and punishment. Prop. 34 attempts, once again, to amend the draconian Three Strikes Law and Prop. 36 asks voters to join most of the civilized world by repealing the death penalty. Not surprisingly, the Democratic Party supports both propositions while the ever backward looking Republican Party is true to its conservative roots by opposing any change. An interesting, and
perhaps relevant statistic is that when you add up all the states that voted for McCain and all the states that voted for Obama in 2008 those red states had a 5.8% higher rate of violent crime than the blue states and an 8% higher rate of property theft.
Before I go into why change is needed in these areas, let's look at where crime and punishment currently is in our United States. The USA has 5% of the world's population and imprisons about 25% of the world's inmates. Starting
in 2011, the U.S. prison population was 2,266,362. About one out of every 138 Americans is behind bars, or 743 per 100,000. Compare this with our neighborCanada who has 117, or Japan with only 59. Russia with 584 is a distant
second to America, which proudly claims to be the Land of the Free. So what is going on here? Are Americans far more evil and violent than other people around the world so that we have to protect society by locking
them up? I don't think so. According to Wikipedia the rapid increase in prison population took off in 1980 with Ronald Reagan's war on drugs that sent so many nonviolent drug users to prison. Despite the long record of failure
in the war on drugs, most Republicans, except for Libertarians, and many Democrats are unwilling to incur voter wrath by being labeled as soft on crime. Typically federal courts sentence drug offenders from 5 to 10 years,
while in the rest of the developed world they might get 6 months. Also, we pay judges good money to use their common sense and experience and then we impose mandatory sentencing guidelines so they can't use it. In the case of Three Strikes, people are actually serving life sentences for stealing a bicycle or a pizza. Another serious defect of the Three Strikes law is that innocent people plea bargain to crimes they didn't commit because they just can't risk a guilty verdict.
I believe the problem is that as a political strategy in America, it's hard to be too tough on crime. Just like the defense budget, a politician can't say "We can't afford to spend this much on defense". It's hard for a politician
to get elected by saying, "We can't afford to spend this much on crime," because that sounds like saying we are too hard on criminals.
Perhaps if the average voter thought about how much prisons cost and if the money is really well spent he might be more open to reasonable policies being used in other countries. Cost estimates range from $24,000 per prisoner per
year to over $40,000 in states like California. When you include the $5.1 billion spent building new prisons, the cost to the taxpayer is $60 billion. Politicians rarely say we are going to raise your taxes so we can imprison
record numbers of Americans. It's easy for politicians to say, "Lock them up and throw away the key" if they don't mention the cost. Aggravating the problem is the fact that many prisoners are mentally ill, or mentally
retarded and are often there because were too poor to be adequately represented. The 'tough on crime mentality' in this country has also led to young teens and children being tried as adults. Here again, you have this stark difference between the two parties. Republicans want to look tough and strong by making the goals of incarceration to be punishment and retribution while Democrats tend to believe that protecting society and
rehabilitation should be the goal.
Amending Three Strikes would save California from $150 to $200 million a year, but more than that, we should consider the human cost Three Strikes causes in wasted lives and broken families.
The list of countries that execute ten or more people a year are 1. China, 2. Iran, 3. Saudi Arabia, 4. Iraq, 5. United States (43/year), 6. Yemen, 7. North Korea, and, 8. Somalia. These are mostly authoritarian countries that use the death penalty for political purposes. Do you want to be on this list with these countries?
Listed in the voter guide as to why California should end the death penalty, as 33 other states have done, is that "It is intrinsically wrong", which seems to be acurate but vague. I would argue that if murder is wrong then the state
committing murder in the name of its citizens is also ethically wrong. There is an old adage the "Two wrongs don't make a right" that applies here. Premeditation is used as a major factor to determine whether or not the death
penalty will apply. No murder is more premeditated than when the state executes someone.
18 September 2012
Friday, September 14, 2012
"Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth."
What Taibbi is referring to, of course, is Romney’s reign at Bain Capital, the “private equity” company he headed for years, and through which he made his big money. That’s because the way “leveraged buyouts” (LBOs) work is by the gathering of a small amount of capital (by companies like Bain) with which to borrow huge amounts of money (borrowing a lot with only a little is called “leverage”) from the likes of Goldman Sachs, so they can take over a given company. One example Taibbi uses is the buyout of KB Toys. In that case, Bain put up $18 million of its own, and then borrowed no less than $302 million from investment banks to complete the deal. Then Bain induced KB Toys to “redeem $121 million in stock and take out more than $66 million in bank loans - $83 million of which went directly into the pockets of Bain's owners and investors, including Romney.” Long story short, KB Toys went into bankruptcy (because, you see, the company is saddled with the huge debt Bain borrowed to buy it, and has to pay it off, often an impossibility, even after laying off half its workers), while Bain earned a return of “at least 370% on the deal” or up to 900% if the assertion of Big Lots, LB Toys’ former parent company, is correct. In dollar terms, that is, Bain added more than $300 million in debt to KB Toys, and took out more than $120 million in cash via fees and other perks. As usual, they managed to do this by giving big bonuses to the company’s top managers: “CEO Michael Glazer got an incredible $18.4 million, while CFO Robert Feldman received $4.8 million and senior VP Thomas Alfonsi took home $3.3 million.” Of course, mere workers were left with no jobs and no money at all when the company, formerly a successful maker of things, went belly up.
Now we have Mitt Romney, and his current attack dog, Paul Ryan (but really, doesn’t Ryan look like some bug-eyed Disney cartoon?) excoriating President Obama for piling up $5 trillion in debt. This is the Republican mantra. Debt will bring down our country. Debt is the cancer eating away at the American dream. Government simply can’t afford to spend any money on frills—by which they mean, of course, social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, or any kind of welfare programs whatever (other than corporate welfare, of course). Austerity, that’s the only way to get out of our debt crisis. And the fact that Mitt is the great debt creator himself, or that economic history has proven that austerity fails to solve depressions, and in fact makes them worse—because the problem, as Paul Krugman has pointed out endlessly, is that austerity reduces employment, and people without jobs can’t afford to spend money, so businesses don’t invest, having no one to sell to, hence the depression—matters not a jot. Romney and most Republican movers and shakers, that is, are investors. And investors make their money by being paid back in currency that is more, not less valuable. If money that debtors pay back is less valuable, then investors lose. This is the whole story in a nutshell. The deficit becomes the prime concern of the investor class because they fear that inflation rises from it; and inflation, whether it be rising prices, or an increase in the money supply (which is what finances stimulus programs to put people back to work), cheapens the value of the dollars they have invested. Being paid back in cheaper dollars is a loss to them. What they really want is to be paid back in more valuable dollars—the result of deflation. They can’t opt for too much deflation, of course, because that would bring down the whole system. But enough deflation to bring sufficient pain to the poor bastards who have borrowed from them, and a somewhat greater return on their investments, is just right. This is the core of the “hard, courageous” choices they pretend to make as leaders: pain and deprivation for the working stiffs, the ones who borrow, so the investor class and financiers can have ever bigger cars and houses and yachts and private schools for their precious offspring.
This makes the upcoming election starker than any in recent memory. If the Republicans manage to convince the benighted American public of the rightness of their deficit analysis, and win this election to put Romney in the driver’s seat, with a Republican congress to allow him to implement his austerity program (austerity for you and me, that is, not for the investor class who can count on lower tax rates and bigger loopholes in which to hide their money), watch out. The nation will be even more the plaything of the moneyed class, while the so-called “entitlement” programs that keep the unemployed from falling off the edge entirely, will be decimated. We simply can’t afford them, will be the Republican rationale. Which is to say, we simply can’t afford the poor.
What we will be able to afford are even more and bigger mansions for the likes of corporate raiders like Romney, and even better financial deals for his backers—the Goldman Sachses, the Morgan Stanleys, the Citigroups, and dear old Sheldon Adelson. I may need a whole blog to cover the latter—the most foul, scabrous creature that has appeared on a national scene since Charles Dickens was portraying them in his novels—but here, suffice it to say, this is the guy who earns his money running a gambling empire, the Sands Corporation, that is even now under investigation by the Justice Department for allegations of bribery (in China) and money laundering (everywhere). Nice fellow. And Adelson has said in no uncertain terms, that he will personally spend at least $100 million to get Republicans elected not just to the presidency, but to Congress as well. If he succeeds, of course, there will be a new Attorney General, and (he no doubt hopes and intends) his legal problems will go away. There will also be a more generous and cooperative (read ‘obsequious’) policy towards Israel’s Likudniks, as well as a more aggressive policy towards Iran and other Israeli “enemies” like Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinians, and just about the whole middle east.
In short, a disaster. So while earlier I had suggested that it might be time for progressives to start thinking in terms of third-party candidates, the situation has become too dire for that. Obama must win a second term. Otherwise, we will be buried beneath a deluge of corporate money and power the likes of which we haven’t seen since Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan and their fellow robber barons ran the government as their own private fiefdom—though not even then would they have dared put one of their own, nakedly proclaiming his greed, in the White House.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
We have been hard on our GOP brothers
Yet their trickledown smothers
Making it more than just strange
They go backwards for change
Perhaps we’ve missed all the meaning
And there’s more that we should be gleaning
When they add to our debt
By “no tax” pledges and wars they forget
We have all been chasing a rabbit
And the Right has made it a habit
To make jobs overseas
Despite all the pleas
By workers who want work and pension
Instead of handouts and tension
Or vouchers for health and schools
While being taken as fools
All this time, I have been bewildered by the GOP talking about jobs and yet legislating only social engineering projects in the House. In fact, in order to train the millions of Americans who simply want to work for a living to learn patience, they are testing our memories and patience. There may have excellent support that the GOP should not run their campaign by fact checking. It destroys delusions.
At the state level, we have seen a refusal to accept federal monies to enhance their Medicaid (which includes child healthcare) while simultaneously adding to “small” government by passing and financing laws to mandate ultrasound (including transvaginal ultrasound in some GOP states). Is this social engineering reminiscent of the old USSR? Maybe worse. At least in the USSR, an individual did not have to pay for an unnecessary medical act mandated by the government. Remember that abortion, regardless of the discomfort it brings in discussions, is still legal in our United States. So the party of “small government” that threw months of hissy-fits about “Obamacare” being mandatory are demanding that women in seven states pay for the MANDATED medically unnecessary procedure to undergo another medical procedure. Hmm. Small government? Exactly where? Will we have a small government staff for each woman who must have government ultrasounds and one for maintaining the unequal pay for equal work rules? Will we have another small government to ensure that these uppity women don’t get contraceptives? The GOP platform mandates that women who are victims of rape must bear the children of rape so, in effect, the small government acting in loco fetus chooses the fetus over the rights of the mother to have a legal procedure performed to protect her physical and mental health. I am currently reading Half the Sky that points out dramatically that the most repressive regimes abuse women the most. Are we headed to a link up with the Taliban? According to authors Kristof and WuDunn, more egregious violators of women include India, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Are we crowding women out of political expression here so that they are property once again? So we abolished slavery with the 13th Amendment? Are we circumventing that amendment state by state and causing women to lose their hard won independence? By curtailing women’s healthcare funding and attacking Planned Parenthood, are we marginalizing women in the US so they are no longer a factor in our society except to bear children as the State mandates but without financial assistance?
There are a number of other curious ironies by the party that touts freedom but acts to enhance the role of government in the home and family. Some are personal and reflect back on their disdain for fact checking. Paul Ryan claimed a “two hour and fifty-something” marathon a couple weeks ago, even when challenged by the interviewer Hewitt who recognized that as an amazing time. It was only when Runner’s World documented his actual time that was well over 4 hours that he claimed a “misstatement.” His running mate Romney, while governor of Massachusetts claimed both MA and UT as his residence and only after that fact being pointed out did he reimburse MA for taxes not paid. Lie, of course not, it was an error by his accountants. We have all heard the spin by Ryan that Obama failed to follow the Simpson-Bowles recommendations. He omitted the fact that he, Ryan, voted against Simpson-Bowles and that he, Ryan, actually led the GOP commissioners in voting against it. Why not blame Obama? Maybe he won’t notice. Similarly, Ryan blasted Obama for “looting” $716 Billion from Medicare. He, Ryan, also eliminated $716 Billion from Medicare and his came from benefits instead of payments to providers like hospitals as the Obama plan does. Ryan’s Medicare would last only until 2016 when he could save it by destroying it much like our criticism from Vietnam. The establishment of Voucher-nation would also include education. The idea of this pure marketplace is brilliant. We will put individual taxpayers in the position of bargaining with large, wealthy private providers to get a good price for medical and education services. He will restore the donut hole in medication pricing to help those poor pharmaceuticals along while we bargain. Now let me think. Can I trade a medical voucher for services like getting my broken down used car fixed so I can drive to all my minimum wage jobs to keep my family together? No matter. Mittens says I should borrow money from my parents. “Oh, they died? Find some living parents who will lend you money.”
As I said, we have been too hard on our GOP friends and we have set the bar too high. After all, they brought us the two greatest financial calamities in the past century, the Great Depression by Harding and Coolidge and Hoover and the Great Wall Street Fraud by GW Bush. Who were we to know that trickle-down referred to the pee down your leg instead of money? They were right, and the pee trickled down. Now they talk of millions of jobs and they will be right again. Just be sure to pronounce it as JOBES. I can assure you that with vouchers and without guaranteed healthcare coverage, we will see millions of people suffering to compete with Job and his medical afflictions. We will see women returned to their rightful place promoting men in the home and hearts of the nation. We will see the wealthy getting wealthier but slimmer so they can fit like tiny camels through the eyes of needles. We will see the poor carrying water for the parched lips of the wealthy as in the biblical allusions amended by the religious right. There will be the opportunity to buy education-by-voucher if you did not spend that voucher on food. This is the Brave New World. You had better be brave or you cannot compete in the new Darwinian experiment from the right. It is a new approach to an open market where there are no impediments like regulations on the corporations that caused the Wall Street collapse. This is where risky investments are rewarded by success or bailout and you can share in the next bailout on your minimum wage job, Job.
You may not share in the profits and your paycheck may be smaller, but you will be free to bargain and to borrow money from your parents. Is life good or what, Job? You have learned patience in your afflictions and now you can enjoy the payoff. No need to retire, Bain has your pension money. No time to get sick and you have new choices with your freedom. Job, do you buy medicine or food? Do you train for new skills or buy food with that voucher? Do you feel the power?
Please vote. The Job you save may be your own. Is it jobs or Jobs? Maybe it is all in the pronunciation. Could it make a difference? Can you make a difference? Will women remember in November? So do a little fact checking and maybe you can avoid the next trickle-down. Those pants may be the last you will own and you don’t want to pee in them.
7 Sep 2012