Justice in America – Not

A central dogma of American politics and culture is the rule of law. The ever present blind scales of justice are trotted out with such regularity that the briefest glimpse serves to remind us that we live in a country with a uniquely fair and just system of law. Of course if you have ever had the slightest encounter with the reality of this system you will already know that it is only those with money for whom this system produces any justice, and for them more money assures more justice.

Recently I came across the Prison Policy Initiative as a new source of information on how our judicial system actually works. PPI just released a new pie chart and other graphs, “How many people are locked up in the United States?” Continue reading

Dangers of the US Security State

There are those, in response to the recent revelations of the US government vacuum cleaning our lives through the NSA and other secret programs, who take the line that the innocent have nothing to fear from the government. Here is an example of why no one should take such a naive approach to the powers of government.

LAURA POITRAS credit: Ruby Washington/New York Times photographer - borrowed w/o permission

LAURA POITRAS
credit: Ruby Washington/New York Times photographer – borrowed w/o permission

The New York Times reported recently (“Player in Leaks Case, Out From Behind Camera1 ) on the role of Laura Poitras in the revelations by Edward Snowden about domestic surveillance by NSA et al.. Continue reading

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/15/business/media/filmmaker-linked-to-leaks-has-her-own-stories-to-tell.html?_r=0 []

Thomas Friedman’s It’s a 401(k) World – facile, misleading

Thomas L. Friedman NYTimesMay Day 2013 brought a piece in the NY Times by Thomas Friedman, “It’s a 401(k) World” that points out the enormous changes in employment, technology, personal access to information and personal responsibility for larger swaths of life.  Work changed from a steady job as a regular feature of life to a series of part-time or short term engagements with corporations who view labor as a throw away element. 

Reading this op ed leaves one with the notion that these changes have arisen through some immutable forces of nature. Continue reading

Economic Inequality – Does It Matter?

It is fairly widely known that income and wealth inequality in the US is as high or higher than at any time except perhaps the Robber Baron period at the end of the 19th century. Lots of articles and books explain how this has come about over the last 30 years. In a recent NYTimes Magazine article, “The Purpose of Spectacular Wealth, According to a Spectacularly Wealthy Guy” by Adam Davidson, we are even offered an affirmative defense of this by a buddy of Mitt Romney from Bain Capital Edward Conrad.

Conrad… “aggressively argues that the enormous and growing income inequality in the United States is not a sign that the system is rigged. On the contrary, Conrad writes, it is a sign that our economy is working. And if we had a little more of it, then everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would be better off.”

But, leaving aside the obvious disconnect between any rational measure of value add by the wealthy and their incomes and holdings, does economic inequality really matter? Is it just that those of us in the not wealthy class, now branded The 99%, are jealous of all the toys of the wealthy? Their four or five houses, countless cars, airplanes, and all the rest?

Are their some measurable consequences to economic inequality? Continue reading

America’s Longest War – a socio-political-military disaster – indicted by Global Commission on Drug Policy

Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy

Last week this commission released its report,  “War on Drugs“. This once again brings into focus our longest war, Nixon’s War on Drugs. Here are the first two paragraphs from the executive summary:

The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.

Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers. Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of drug use. Government expenditures on futile supply reduction strategies and incarceration displace more cost-effective and evidence-based investments in demand and harm reduction.

Meanwhile the US War on Drugs grinds on and total Federal and state spending on this disaster will lurch over $35 Billion this year.

Extending Eisenhower’s Language

in his last speech as President, Eisenhower pointed to the “military-industrial complex” as a threat to the nation’s security and health. Since then, hisotry has added new layers of meaning and expanded the scope of this phrase. Today, we are in the thrall if not control of the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Executive-Spying-DrugWar-Complex. The War on Drugs has a record of failure and destructive outcomes now over 40 years old. Nevertheless, this behemoth roles along, getting bigger and more global in its reach every year. No Republicans or Democrats are willing to abandon the policies and rhetoric so cynically initiated by Nixon. Even this year of the so-called deficit debate, when Republicans and Democrats are willing to throw every bit of discretionary social or infrastructure spending under the bus, the War on Drugs (and every other element of the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Executive-Spying-DrugWar-Complex) is off limits.

Global Commission Recommendations

The executive summary continues(my highlighting):

Our principles and recommendations can be summarized as follows:

End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.

Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. This recommendation applies especially to cannabis, but we also encourage other experiments in decriminalization and legal regulation that can accomplish these objectives and provide models for others.

Offer health and treatment services to those in need. Ensure that a variety of treatment modalities are available, including not just methadone and buprenorphine treatment but also the heroin-assisted treatment programs that have proven successful in many European countries and Canada. Implement syringe access and other harm reduction measures that have proven effective in reducing transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections as well as fatal overdoses. Respect the human rights of people who use drugs. Abolish abusive practices carried out in the name of treatment – such as forced detention, forced labor, and physical or psychological abuse – that contravene human rights standards and norms or that remove the right to self-determination.

Apply much the same principles and policies stated above to people involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets, such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers. Many are themselves victims of violence and intimidation or are drug dependent. Arresting and incarcerating tens of millions of these people in recent decades has filled prisons and destroyed lives and families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations. There appears to be almost no limit to the number of people willing to engage in such activities to better their lives, provide for their families, or otherwise escape poverty. Drug control resources are better directed elsewhere.

Invest in activities that can both prevent young people from taking drugs in the first place and also prevent those who do use drugs from developing more serious problems. Eschew simplistic ‘just say no’ messages and ‘zero tolerance’ policies in favor of educational efforts grounded in credible information and prevention programs that focus on social skills and peer influences. The most successful prevention efforts may be those targeted at specific at-risk groups.

Focus repressive actions on violent criminal organizations, but do so in ways that undermine their power and reach while prioritizing the reduction of violence and intimidation. Law enforcement efforts should focus not on reducing drug markets per se but rather on reducing their harms to individuals, communities and national security.

Begin the transformation of the global drug prohibition regime. Replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights – and adopt appropriate criteria for their evaluation. Review the scheduling of drugs that has resulted in obvious anomalies like the flawed categorization of cannabis, coca leaf and MDMA. Ensure that the international conventions are interpreted and/or revised to accommodate robust experimentation with harm reduction, decriminalization and legal regulatory policies.

Break the taboo on debate and reform. The time for action is now.

Go to the website and read further. They provide case studies from around the world to illustrate their case for these principles and policies.

Charles M. Blow wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times (6/11/2011) “Drug Bust“. It included the following graphics:

Einstein (Rita Mae Brown) Had Something To Say About This

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

 

Corporations as Persons – Freedom of Speech, now Right to Privacy – Bring on Three Strikes!

The case of the Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T1 now being heard before the US Supreme Court raises anew the craziness of the thinking that has position corporations to be “persons” in the first place.

Noun vs Adjective!

First we have several of the justices focusing argument around the difference between “persons” and “personal”.

But several justices said it was too much of a leap to go from saying that corporations might be “persons” for some purposes to saying that their “personal privacy” could be invaded. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said he could think of many instances “where the adjective was very different from the root noun.” “You have craft and crafty,” he said. “Totally different. Crafty doesn’t have much to do with craft. Squirrel, squirrelly. Right?” “Pastor and pastoral,” he went on. “Same root, totally different.”

Can they be serious that the issue here is the difference between a noun and an adjective and the not novel observation that a common root does not universally generate a common smenatic value?

Common Usage

As reported, during the oral arguments, “Can you give me any examples in common usage where people would refer to the personal privacy of a corporation?” Justice Scalia asked Mr. Klineberg. “Do you have any examples from The New York Times, from, you know, Boswell, from anywhere, that anybody refers to the interests of a corporation as the ‘personal privacy’ of General Motors?”

Following Scalia’s line of argument, we might ask ourselves to find examples from common usage, excepting those generated by the Court’s long standing finding that corporations are “persons for some purposes”, where people refer to corporations or any business entities as persons. Even corporations only use the impersonal pronouns “it” and “they” in referring to themselves. Certainly corporations acting in groups use the pronoun “we” in the collective sense. But, can anyone find examples where people in common usage use “I” “you”, “he” or “she” in referring to corporations. Corporations certainly never use these pronouns in speaking of the corporation. Ask the common person anywhere whether they think that a corporation is a person in any sense that relates to the classic uses in American history. Does the the Declaration of Independence’s line, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Does anyone think that corporations have unalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?

Last year’s Supreme Court decision granting corporations the right to free speech, and by extension the right to spend whatever amounts of money they want to express their opinions, is a now well known extension of the corporation as a person. With the thinking revealed in these oral arguments, who knows where this court could find on the issue of the right of corporations to personal privacy.

Three strikes and you are dissolved!

Perhaps we should envision some further extensions of this thinking. If corporations are persons, then why don’t we apply the same penalties to their misbehavior that we do to real persons? Repeat offenders are regularly sentenced to long terms in jail or even life in prison. Shouldn’t we apply this thinking to corporations and hold them to the same accountability? Three strikes and you are dissolved!

  1. See the NYTimes,  “Court Weighs Whether Corporations Have Personal Privacy Rights” By ADAM LIPTAK Published: January 19, 201 []

Religious Doubt Spreads – Free Flows of Capital Seen as Dangerous to Some

Money floating aroundThere is more evidence that the current run of religious mania about “free markets” is finally giving way to a more fact-based approach to this important human invention, many countries are now applying capital controls on the flow of monies into  their economies. The world flood of money seeking higher rent districts is terrorizing smaller economies like a tsunami. Fears of speculative bubbles burgeoning and then bursting with disastrous consequences for local economies are driving many to control inflows. Recently the NY Times posted an article about this phenomenon, “Countries See Hazards in Free Flow of Capital1.

“The world has learned about the perils of free market finance — global financial liberalization just does not work as advertised,” said Dani Rodrik, a political economy professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. “Just as John Maynard Keynes said in 1945 — capital controls are now orthodox.”

Despite the obvious lessons of the last 4 years, “free market” advocates, just like religious zealots throughout history, remain undeterred by the facts on the ground. Financial firms ride along with this zealotry because its suits their business strategies to a T. Nevertheless, some governments, in the face of what must be enormous pressures from the world financial industry that profits coming and going in these financial boondoggles, are facing up to the facts and doing their best to take actions to control the impacts of markets on their local economies. Unfortunately for us in the US, we have no such governments. Ours are owned more than ever completely by big money, overwhelmingly by big corporate money and the super plutocracy of the super rich. They have always known that “free markets” is a wonderful religious cover their control over the real wheels of commerce and politics.

  1. By LANDON THOMAS Jr. Published: November 10, 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/11/business/global/11capital.html?_r=1&emc=eta1# []

Internet Service, the New York Times and Choice in the World of Mono-Duo-poly Capitalism

What Planet is the Times Orbiting?

Today’s New York Times editorial page included a piece titled “How Fast Is Your Broadband?“. It provides a reasonable review of the sad performance of the Internet service providers in the US. It is widely known that Internet service providers like Comcast, Time-Warner and locally Mid-Hudson Cable chronically provide significantly less than their advertising claims. Here in Hudson, NY Mid-Hudson claims “blazing speeds” of 5 MB/sec (download). Repeated measurements, now numbering over 280 in the last six months prove that they provide speeds 30% less than this mark. Service technicians from M-H have acknowledged that this is the typical service they provide.

Worse is that the latency frequently reaches 2 seconds instead of being under the 100 milliseconds that is commonly accepted as OK latency on the Internet.. This means that after your click your mouse on a link in a browser, you can literally count “1 Mississippi 2 Mississippi” before you get any response to your query. This latency disables common communications tools like VOIP telephone services and audio and video services via Skype or Google. Continue reading

A New Thought on Terrorism

An article in today’s NYTimes about cyber crime, malware, etc. suggests to me that another line of attack may be through the Internet against our utilities, telecoms, or financial institutions.

There have already been massive attacks against whole countries with successful breakdowns that lasted for hours and days. Ukraine, Lithuania, and Georgia were targets over the last year. My memory is that suspicions fell to the Russian government because the attacks, in these cases massive Denial of Service assaults, appeared to originate from within Russia.

At any rate, add this to your terror worries.