Miscellaneous Blather

2 11 2009

I’ve been pretty busy buying and moving into a house here in the Shallow South, hence the lengthy gap between submissions. Now that my life is slightly less hectic, I’ll regale my few readers with some brain squeezings I’ve been collecting during the hiatus.

BAREFOOT BUM

A couple of months ago, the Barefoot Bum abruptly closed his blog. He said that he’d run out of things to say. Fortunately for rational discourse, he has recanted that decision and returned to the fray. Please give him a read. I rarely agree with him politically, but he always makes well thought-out and supported arguments. This is such a rare commodity among internet denizens that we should all take notice- whether or not we agree with his conlusions.

IF YOU TAX THEM, THEY WILL LEAVE

There’s an excellent article over at City Journal describing the demographic penalties for high-tax states in comparison with low-tax states. The two primary comparisons are between Texas and California. I have a few issues with some of the author’s unspoken assumptions, conclusions, and methodology, but the trendline does appear to be significantly in favor of the states with lower taxes.

SPEAKING OF VOTING WITH ONE’S WALLET …

The wife and I have abandoned our previous internet and TV service provider in favor of two competing services whose aggregate payments are roughly 1/3 cheaper. While I’m on the subject, we’re saving better than a hundred dollars a month by moving out of our apartment and into our own house. All told, our monthly outlays will be reduced by about 25% because of this move- despite the added costs of sewer, garbage, and water.

How did we do it? Simple. We refused to settle for less than what we wanted for the money, we were willing to wait for the right circumstances, we’re willing to put in sweat equity, and we are not averse to paying for quality. We got a roughly $150K house for only $120K.

QUALITY, AND THE VALUE THEREOF

My wife and I did a lot of shopping around for goods and services for our new house. Consumer Reports was very useful in determining which appliances to buy, and some of the companies who submitted winning bids on the modifications and upgrades we wanted recommended other companies for specialty work. Note that the winning bids were not necessarily the lowest bids. I value quality workmanship at least as much as cost. One company showed up to do some electrical work within 20 minutes of our phone call, performed admirably and professionally, and charged a modest fee. Since this company also performs plumbing and other work, we’ve hired them more than once.

EFFICIENCY

Usually pays off over time. In the case of some of our upgrades, we’re reaping dividends in the short term as well. Our top-end HVAC system is returning us approximately $4,300.00 in tax credits and rebates. All you have to do is learn the rules and exercise the grey material between your ears. Yes, Virginia, there is math involved.

Whenever a salescreature begins extolling the efficiency of his or her overpriced product of choice, calculate out how long it would take for the efficiency savings to pay for the higher price. Unless the product has a lifespan measured in decades, a return on investment time of 5 years or more is probably not worth it.

Your mileage may vary. Not sold in stores. Consult a physician or lawn-care professional before using. Offer void in Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of Tennessee.

SAMHAIN

One of the happier memories from my childhood was Halloween. These days, however, various strange bedfellows are working in concert (perhaps inadvertently) to destroy happy memories of the holiday for the current generation of kids. Wiccans, rabid evangelical christians, and helicopter parents all have their collective panties in a twist about Halloween.

Here in the Shallow South, the fundie-loonies are all up in arms over the supposed satanic nature of Halloween. Schools in this area can’t even refer to October 31st as Halloween. Now it’s the Fall Festival. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the evangelical wingnut fringe is making these claims- they don’t even know what’s in their sacred texts, so why should I think they’d be willing and able to read history and anthropology?

The helicopter parents at least have a few fragments of rationality behind their phobia against permitting their precious snowflakes to go trick-or-treating. There really are bad things which could happen to the puir wee bairns. The fact that a few basic precautions can eliminate or at least dramatically minimize the (already low) probability of those Bad Things happening has apparently not entered the vacuous skulls of the pathologically overprotective. So their crotch-goblins miss out on the fun of pretending to be goblins. Don’t worry- I’m sure the helicopter parents will pay for their paranoia, probably in the form of payments for the services of child psychologists.

Those wacky Wiccans are the real wild cards in the mix. For some reason, some Wiccans are upset that their holiday is being usurped by common folk for non-religious reasons. In my experience, Wiccans  are generally very tolerant of the real world around them. It’s disturbing to learn that even pagans have fundamentalist whackjobs.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN WHAT PASSES FOR REALITY …

… the police in San Jose, California, are escalating the general assault on the civil liberties of the citizens they allegedly serve. Apparently, police in that city have been arresting tons of people for the crime of … wait for it … resisting arrest. Furthermore- and this will shock you- the internal police department investigations into citizen complaints about this practice have found that the officers did not violate procedure.

Somebody call the Supreme Court. I’m reasonably certain that “dissing a cop” is not a valid criminal offense.

IN THE LATEST NANNY-STATE NEWS

Some jackass-in-office in Ayer, Massachusetts got perturbed at the sight of a father pushing his kid on a swing while smoking. Outdoors. In public. How horrible! As a result, the stalwart city leaders of Ayer have banned smoking in all parks and public lands within their jurisdiction.

I don’t smoke, but the idea doesn’t fill me with horror or loathing either. I seriously doubt that anyone outdoors is likely to be exposed to hazardous levels of second-hand smoke unless they were literally nose-to-nose with the smoker. Simply walking a meter or so in any direction would reduce the potentially toxic emissions from the smoker to negligible levels- well below the maximum threshold value from the NIH. As a practical matter, the general level of toxins already in the atmosphere in most major metropolitan areas make second-hand smoke one of the safest pollutants to breathe. Of course, I’m talking about practicality in reference to a state founded by a bunch of bandy-legged, redneck, militia types (also known as Puritans). Logic and practicality never come into play when the chance arises to punish someone for enjoying himself.

Isn’t it about time we (the People) told the officious busybodies who supposedly work for us to keep their noses out of our business?

And that’s all for this show. Tune in at some indeterminate time in the future when I find something else to get irate about.

Current status: Tired and sore

Current music: Cygnus X-1, Book II by Rush





Speaking of Domestic Enemies

4 10 2009

I’ve written before on the subject of police abuses. More and more frequently, news stories appear which paint a picture of police organizations across the country treating the citizens they allegedly serve as criminals. Here is another horror story from Phoenix, Arizona.

It turns out that a homeowner was forced to react when a stranger crashed into his house through the front window and ran into his child’s bedroom. The homeowner grabbed his gun, held the bad guy at gunpoint, and called the police. The cops arrived while he was still on the phone with 911, so the homeowner’s wife went outside to tell the police that her husband had the bad guy at gunpoint. Somehow, this information didn’t sink in. The first officer through the door shot the homeowner in the back four times, then shot him twice more- in the back- while he lay on the ground.

Another officer came in and told the first cop that he had just shot the homeowner- the completely innocent party who was still on the phone with 911. The 911 recording picked up the police officers as they immediately began to try and cover up what had happened. The first officer was asked where the homeowner’s gun was. He replied, “I don’t know. I didn’t see a gun.” The other officers took the time to let the first officer know that they had his back. All of this was recorded by the 911 operator, as were the innocent victim’s pleas for his family to be spared seeing him like this.

In lieu of providing first aid or doing anything rational, the police dragged the innocent victim by his injured leg out onto the patio in front of the man’s wife and kids. He was then searched, handcuffed, and laid onto the hood of a patrol car- which then drove several houses down the street with the wounded man on the hood. When medical care finally arrived, the victim was transported to the hospital, but the police refused to allow his family to learn anything about his condition. To everyone’s surprise, the homeowner did survive, but will be in pain for the rest of his life as a result of his injuries. A lawsuit is pending.

Despite the evidence of the 911 recordings, the police involved in this fiasco swore that the first officer had been threatened by the homeowner’s gun and had fired in self-defense. I’m sure that explains the multiple gunshot wounds in his back, and the first cop saying that he hadn’t seen a gun. A police department shooting review board decided that the police did not violate department policy in this shooting.

I’ll let that one sink in for a moment.

The police department apparently thinks it is perfectly within department policy for officers to burst into a home and shoot the first black or brown person they see. In the back. The officers in question were not reprimanded or punished in any way. As far as I can tell, they are still working for the Phoenix Police Department.

I would love to say that this sort of behavior is atypical, and that police departments do not routinely cover up for their officers who act in such a fashion. Since I don’t feel like lying, I cannot say this. These abuses are becoming more and more commonplace across the country. The police- who work for us- are treating us like the enemy.

This police behavior worries me (and it should bother everyone) because I can see this sort of thing happening where  I live. The local police are not known for their professionalism, but they are known for circling the wagons at the first sign of civilian unhappiness with their actions. This is unacceptable. Police are hired by the public to enforce the laws. Period. Full stop. We, the People, have granted the police broad authority to accomplish this task. Far too many police agencies do not have any sense of responsibility to go along with their authority. It is therefore incumbent upon us- the people who hired them- to enforce responsibility.

I suggest setting up police review boards along the lines of jury duty. Members of the community can be called up to serve for a month on a police review board. This board will examine every complaint against the police during that month, and provide binding decisions. The police department will be required to enact the decisions of the board within 60 days. A criminal court judge would oversee police completion of Board decisions, and apply judicial penalties for noncompliance.

This brings me back to the Four Boxes. This proposed program requires the use of the first three boxes. Use a Soap Box to advocate for this sort of civilian oversight. Use the Ballot Box to vote for this sort of program and for politicians who support it. Use the Jury Box to enforce compliance with the program. If we do all of that, we might be able to avoid opening that Fourth Box.

If we keep on going the way things are going now, we get closer and closer to opening that Fourth Box. Nobody wants that.

Current status: Miffed

Current music: Lothlorien by Enya





Liberty Wept

6 04 2009

sadliberty

I’ve written at length about how our country seems to be turning into a police state. Police departments around the country are apparently regarding the citizens by whom they are employed as the enemy. In the name of the “War on Terror” or the “War on Drugs”, more and more of our precious liberties are getting filched away- nibbled to death by ducks. Merely understanding and standing up for one’s Constitutional rights is increasingly viewed with suspicion by almost every police department- or at least the ones which make the news. The most innocuous of behaviors is increasingly falling afoul of some Government regulation or another, which are frequently misapplied by law-enforcement personnel to the detriment of individual liberty in this country.

For example, a photographer standing on a public sidewalk in Phoenix, Arizona, was told by a police officer that he wasnot permitted to take a picture of one the Federal building. When the photographer asked what legal authority forbade taking pictures of a public building from a public sidewalk, he was brusquely told to “Google it”. There have been numerous reports of citizens getting harassed and even arrested for the “crime” of taking pictures or video of police in the performance of their duties on public thoroughfares. A group of police in Philadelphia have taken to raiding local grocery and convenience stores for the crime of selling small ziploc bags. Worse still, these Phillie cops go out of their way to disable all security cameras in the establishments they raid.

In the course of my job, I am frequently required to undergo periodic security training. The last annual training refresher I took instructed me to beware of suspicious activities such as owning firearms and practicing marksmanship. After hearing this little security tip, I immediately went to the Security manager for my building and reported myself for meeting several of the criteria which my training indicated were possible terrorist behaviors. He was less than amused, the more so since he would have to report himself under those same guidelines.

In yet another case, a self-described libertarian was at an airport to catch a flight when the Transportation Security Authority agents became suspicious of the cash he was carrying. When they asked him how much he was carrying, why he was carrying it, and what he did for a living, he replied by asking if he was legally required to answer those questions. This was deemed suspicious behavior, and the police and FBI were called. The FBI disgustedly told the TSA to let the man board his plane. In defense of the TSA, my few experiences with them have been uniformly professional and courteous.

When police perform traffic stops, they often ask if they can search the vehicle. If they are not granted permission to search, their frequent reply is the statement, “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you shouldn’t object to a search.” I have no problem with the police saying this in an attempt to induce cooperation, but I do have a serious problem when refusing to permit a warrantless search becomes probable cause for issuance of a search warrant.

Since when did refusal to permit a search become probable cause? I’m pretty sure the 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution are reasonably clear on this subject, but I’ll let you be the judge:

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.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The supreme law of the land is the Constitution of the United States. Why, then, are we (the People) permitting our public servants to trample the liberties enshrined and guaranteed therein?

We (the People) have been sold a bill of goods by our elected officials. We are being told that these infringements upon our liberties are necessary to keep us safe from drugs, child molesters, terrorists, commies, albigensians, heretics, martians, or fill-in-your-boogieman-of-choice. And we (the People) have swallowed this line of bullshit with nary a twinge of remorse.

It has become easier to just go along with whatever new byzantine abuse of Government power comes down the pike than to stand up for our inherent liberties. The Rights guaranteed (not granted) by the Constitution are worthless if we (the People) do not stand up and demand that those rights be acknowledged. All rights come with concurrent responsibilities, foremost among them the responsibility to ensure the continuation of those rights.

Please note that I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. Anything you may have seen on TV may bear little or no relationship to the real world of police and courts. If you want legal advice, hire an attorney. Since I am neither licensed nor qualified to give legal opinions, the following is not intended to be legal advice. This is only my personal opinion and stated intent for my own actions when detained or arrested. Your mileage may vary. Follow this course of action at your own risk.

If the police want to search your house, car, office, or person, demand that they first get a warrant. When detained or delayed by the police for any reason, be courteous- but refuse to speak without an attorney. Ask if you are under arrest. If you are not under arrest, ask if you are free to go. If you are not free to go, demand to speak with an attorney. Do not raise your voice, swear, or argue. Simply refuse to speak without an attorney present.

Be warned, following this course of action will very likely result in increased police attention and possible arrest. The police will be extremely annoyed with you, and will use a wide variety of tricks to try and get you to talk to them. Even if you answer some of their questions, you are under no obligation to continue to do so. Here is the Wikipedia entry on the subject:

In the US, the Miranda warning is a warning given by police to criminal suspects in police custody, or in a custodial situation, before they are asked guilt-seeking questions relating to the commission of a crime. A custodial situation is one in which the suspect’s freedom of movement is restrained although he or she is not under arrest. An incriminating statement by a suspect will not constitute admissible evidence unless the suspect was advised of his or her “Miranda rights” and made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of those rights (the term “Miranda rights” is somewhat misleading, as the mandated Miranda warning simply clarifies preexisting Constitutional rights). However, a 2004 Supreme Court Ruling upheld state “Stop and Identify” laws, allowing police to require biographical information such as name, date of birth, and address, without arresting suspects or providing them Miranda warnings.

The Miranda warnings were mandated by the 1966 US Supreme Court decision in the case of Miranda v. Arizona as a means of protecting a criminal suspect’s 5th Amendment right to avoid coercive self-incrimination.

The wording of the so-called Miranda Warning varies from state to state, but the general meaning is fairly unambiguous. The police can stop you and demand that you identify yourself without necessarily placing you in a “custodial situation”. This does not necessarily mean that you have to provide some identification, only that you must give the police your name, date of birth, and address when requested. You are not legally required to answer any other questions, and you are within your rights to refuse to answer any further questions.

Given the increasingly hostile attitude of far too many police toward the citizens they allegedly serve, and the deliberate and methodical diminution of our precious liberties by both police and our elected officials, it is my opinion that everyone should do their utmost to protect the tattered remnants of our Constitutional rights while we still can. Furthermore, I call upon everyone to contact their elected representatives in both state and federal governments and remind them that they are public servants and we (the People) are the public. If those public servants wish to retain their cushy jobs and exorbitant paychecks, they had better start paying attention to the proper historical relationship between the US government and the citizens it is supposed to serve.

Here is a quote from Benjamin Franklin that needs to be more often on the public lips:

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

There are Four Boxes to be used in defense of liberty, in the following order: Soap, Ballot, Jury, and Ammo. On this page, I am calling for all Americans to use the first three. The precipice of tyranny is creeping up on us with cat-like tread. If we do not act now, we may soon be forced to resort to that fourth box. Like Pandora’s box, opening the Fourth Box will unleash horrors and chaos upon the world. Let us all work together to forestall its use. Write your representatives and senators. Stand up for your rights. Our liberties are under attack from within. Failure to use those first three boxes now leads inexorably to the opening of that Fourth Box, and nobody sane wants that.

Current status: Concerned

Current music: Man in the Box by Alice in Chains





Highway Robbery

14 03 2009

Literally.

It turns out that the police in Tenaha, TX are taking advantage of a loophole in a stupidly-conceived law and committing highway robbery. If you happen to be black or latino, and are passing through Tenaha, you find yourself at great risk of getting pulled over for some nonsensical reason (You were driving too close to the white line, amigo). If you are driving a fancy new car, you are very likely to be dispossessed of the vehicle unless you can prove it was not purchased with the profits from the drug trade. If you happen to have a lot of cash in the car (since Tenaha is on the main road to several casinos in nearby Louisiana, this is fairly likely), the cash will almost certainly be seized by the police. Objecting to these practices results in severe threats against the owners. People get threatened with arrest, long jail times before trial, and their children getting taken from them and given to foster homes.

None of these people seem to get charged with any crime. Ever. And this is all perfectly legal.

During the course of our stupid and long-since-lost War on Drugs, several states passed laws allowing police departments to seize the proceeds of the drug trade. These police organizations could then sell the seized properties to augment their budgets. Many of you reading this may be nodding and asking, “So?”

The folks who wrote those laws neglected to account for the perfidies of human beings. These asset seizures are officially described as civil actions- not criminal. In criminal court, the burden of proof is on the prosecution, and that burden is beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil court, the burden of proof is on the person filing the suit, and that burden is a preponderance of evidence. If the police take a few thousand dollars in cash from you, you have to prove it wasn’t part of the drug trade in order to get it back. Worse, you have to prove it to a judge and jury in the police department’s jurisdiction.

We already have p0lice paramilitary units shooting up innocent citizens in the name of the War on Drugs. Now they can legally steal your money or property and you have a very slim chance of ever getting it back.

Let’s take a look at the IVth Amendment to the US Constitution, shall we?

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.

Maybe it’s just me, but the text of this Amendment seems to make this sort of behavior strictly illegal.

I keep coming back to the Four Boxes. We can deal with this stupidity using the first three Boxes.

SOAPBOX: Talk about it. Write to your Congressweasel and Senator. Write to your state legislators and the Governor. Write to the newspapers and TV stations. If you think the forfeiture isn’t an inherently bad idea, get your legislature to modify it so the seizure can’t take place until after conviction and with a separate legal procedure.

BALLOT BOX: Start petition drives to get the law repealed or amended. Vote against legislators who refuse to change or repeal it. Run for office yourself and campaign against it.

JURY BOX: Sue the motherfuckers! If you know someone this has happened to, support them in suing the police. Don’t just sue to get the property back, sue for punitive damages. If we (the People) make it more expensive to engage in this behavior, perhaps the police will stop seeing the citizens they allegedly serve as sources of funding for next year’s budget.

This stupidity is made possible because people refuse to let go of their puritan ideals. I must prevent someone else from enjoying himself, even if it means giving up my own liberty, property, and life! I am not willing to surrender my liberty, property, or life to prevent Joe Stoner from blazing a doob.

The police have no incentive to stop these seizures themselves. We have put them in the position where they look upon the public they allegedly serve only as a source of funding. We (the People) need to use those first three Boxes to put a stop to this before we are forced to resort to the Fourth Box.

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel





Achtung!

31 08 2008

Let us take a look at the first ten Amendments to the US Constitution, better known as the Bill of Rights:

Amendment I– Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II– A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III- No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV- 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.

Amendment V- No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI- In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII- In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII- Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX– The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X– The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

There’s a reason for this exercise. It turns out that the police departments in Denver and Minneapolis are none too fond of this document- based soley upon their recent actions.

In Denver, the police made a point of attacking and harassing protesters in the vicinity of the Democratic party convention. This includes jailing and harassing legal and media observers who were not part of the protests.

In Minneapolis, still a day before the start of the Republican party convention, the police have been raiding the homes of suspected protesters. They’ve been seizing computers and other electronic devices, and arresting people for violating the fire code.

Let’s see now: These are good examples of government violations of the 1st and 4th Amendments. Go ahead and check the list above. I’ll wait.

See what I mean? The heat signatures from the Founders spinning in their graves is probably detectable from space. Conducting police raids on the homes of people suspected of planning to peaceably assemble in protest is chillingly similar to Orwellian thoughtcrime. The last time I looked, organizing a protest was not an act of terrorism. I think it’s very interesting that the police ended up charging the dangerous criminals they rounded up with something as ridiculous as fire code violations. Check me on this: Do fire code violations really require the use of a SWAT unit?

This pathological quest for security by the Government is patently at odds with the very existence of a free society. Our free society. Our liberties are being eroded in the name of security, and nobody seems to care. We, the People, need to speak out against these byzantine abuses of government power. The Government is getting perilously close to forcing the People to the use of the Fourth Box.

The Government agencies responsible for these outrages must be identified and brought to justice forthwith. There is no excuse for this sort of behavior on the part of public servants against members of the public.

All that is required for Evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing. If you sit and quietly accept the evils being committed in your name by your Government, you are permitting Evil to flourish. We, the People, still have a chance to save this country from itself. Make use of the first three boxes forthwith. Support those who are victimized by our Government, and don’t be quiet about it. If you allow the Government to squash dissent in this manner without resorting to every peaceful means of opposition at your disposal, you will be complicit in the destruction which would inevitably result from the People resorting to that Fourth Box. We’re getting closer and closer to the precipice. Please pay attention. And act.

Current status: Concerned

Current music: Xanadu by Rush