aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
The stupid state sales tax proposal
What is it with Georgia and sales taxes? Last month FairTax legislation was introduced by Senator Saxby Chambliss - and promptly skewered in the Wall Street Journal by no less a conservative eminence than Reagan supply-side policy adviser and George H. W. Bush deputy assistant treasury secretary Bruce Bartlett.
It looks like I should be paying more attention to the Georgia House. House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s 4 PLUS 4 = 0 plan to eliminate property taxes, which would be replaced with a statewide 4 percent sales tax, has been floating around for some time:
[T]his would eliminate all property taxes for cities, counties and schools. It would apply a 4 percent sales tax on all services and other dollar-for-dollar exchanges and transactions, including food, legal services, accounting services, healthcare, pest control, electrical utilities and all other business-to-business transactions.
The plan would also drop state income taxes from 6 percent to 4 percent. Thus, 4 percent sales tax plus the 4 percent income tax equals zero property taxes, providing the 4 PLUS 4 = 0 a name.
Under Georgia’s present tax system, county commissioners, mayors, city councils and school board members levy property taxes and apply these revenues to local needs. If citizens don’t like how they spend this revenue, these local government officials can be voted out of office. Under Richardson’s plan, the state of Georgia would eliminate this property tax system and, in exchange, collect all taxes from sales and income. The state would then parcel out tax revenues to each county, city and school system. [...]
Will the 4 PLUS 4 = 0 system eliminate the need for local school boards, county commissions and city councils? After all, the main reason those officials are elected is to create local accountability for local services, such as garbage pickup, emergency response, fire protection, school district services and dozens of other needs.
In answer to that question, Richardson says that there will still be a need for these entities, because they will decide how to spend the revenues the state will give to each county, city and school system.
“The proposals being discussed represent radical untested changes in our tax system,” said Allen Essig, director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. “The consequences of these changes, if they go wrong, will be felt for generations to come.”
Essig was joined on the steps of the state Capitol by representatives from groups that represent senior citizens, teachers, local school boards and city governments across Georgia. [er, these don’t sound like what I’d imagine the most powerful lobbying interests in the state to be.]
Each of them - the AARP, the Georgia Association of Educators, Georgia School Boards Association and the Georgia Municipal Association - has a strong lobbying presence at the state Capitol. Also joining the group was the Georgia Coalition United for a Responsible Budget.
Apparently no longer called 4 PLUS 4 = 0, House Resolution 900 would need a two-thirds vote of Georgia lawmakers followed by a statewide referendum. Insider Advantage has both Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Senate President pro tem Eric Johnson saying the proposal “will probably swamp any talk of a new sales tax for fixing metro Atlanta’s transportation woes during next year’s session of the Legislature.”
Savor this Richardson quote, “I do not intend to study transportation anymore,Ã¢â‚¬Â� the speaker said. “We’ve got to do something, even if it’s wrong.” It was later clarified as the use of “humor to make a point” by a spokeswoman.
50 years ago: West Side Story opens on Bway
Fifty years ago tomorrow West Side Story opened on Broadway. This is from the 1961 movie.
Hillary v Obama “friends”
Wow. The tech president disparity between Hillary and Obama is much greater than I had realized…
Microsoft in Talks to Acquire Stake in Facebook
According to the Wall Street Journal Microsoft is in talks to buy up to a 5% stake in Facebook for $300-500 million. That would value the company at up to $10 billion. The WSJ is also reporting that Google is interested in an investment in the social network and could set up a stand off between the two rival tech giants.
The Journal reports that the discussions taking place so far are in their early stages and that Facebook could wind up not taking any investment (or could turn to financial investors, from whom they have already raised over $40 million). Spokespeople at both Facebook and Microsoft declined to comment on the matter to the WSJ, while a spokesman at Google could not be reached. I think it’s safe to assume Google would be mum on this one too. [...]
Facebook reportedly wants to raise up to $500 million to use for acquisitions (they made their first this summer when they bought web OS company Parakey), beefing up their infrastructure, and expanding their workforce. According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is holding out for a higher valuation than Microsoft is willing to indulge—as much as $15 billion.
So is MySpace a has been? Fortune says no:
It’s easy to dismiss MySpace, with its unruly graphics, clunky navigation, and general sense of chaos. But the masses love it. MySpace is the most trafficked website in the U.S.: It registered 45 billion page views in July, according to comScore Media Metrix. Another research firm, Compete.com, calculates that Americans spend about 12% of all their Internet time there.
And apparently it’s not just kids anymore - about half of its members are over 35. Murdoch bought MySpace in 2005 when it had $23 million in revenues; he recently told analysts that in the fiscal year beginning in July, it will take in $800 million, with a profit margin greater than 20%. [...]
I’m going to go out on a limb here: MySpace, Rupert Murdoch’s four-year-old Internet plaything, may be the template for the media company of the future.
RELATED: Leading social network/teen researcher danah boyd is opting out of the academic job market for now. Unfortunately, it’s darn-near impossible to dispute her reasoning.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Seven Straight Nights for Equal Rights, October 7-13
“Seven Straight Nights for Equal Rights” will feature straight people standing up for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. Events across the nation October 7-13 reflect growing support for equal rights.
Austin, TX—On October 7-13, 2007, straight people across the nation will “come out” as supporters of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans.
From Santa Rosa, California, to Montgomery, Alabama, to Augusta, Maine, overnight vigils will light up American cities over the course of seven nights, providing unprecedented visibility to heterosexual men and women with the conviction to stand up for their gay and lesbian friends and neighbors.
This grassroots groundswell, dubbed Seven Straight Nights for Equal Rights, was initiated by Soulforce and Atticus Circle, two Texas-based organizations with members across the nation. With their support, straight community leaders are organizing vigils in towns like Greenville, South Carolina, Shreveport, Louisiana, Duluth, Minnesota, and Salem, Oregon.
To date, straight equality advocates in thirty cities have stepped forward to hold vigils over the course of the week. The October 7 kick-off will feature an opening night vigil at The King Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
I alerted my friends in Harrisburg, PA, who will no doubt turn out. Now I wonder if I can interest some straight friends here…
Jena 6 complexities
I’m aware of them. I’ve not seen them articulated in a way that I’m comfortable with so if I’m going to err it will be on the side of the Jena 6.
Then I came upon Richard Thompson Ford writing in Slate, “the racial problems facing this town-and many others-are more complex than simple prejudice, and finding solutions will necessarily require more nuance than a mass protest can offer...”
[T]he demonstrators have plenty to be upset about: racial segregation; racially disproportionate arrest, prosecution, and incarceration rates; and a pervasive societal racism that is passed from generation to generation. But because none of these sadly common racial injustices have a discrete cause, none are likely to respond to the type of quick and specific reform that a demonstration can demand. As a result, the march on Jena was a bit unfocused. It’s telling that the demonstrators moved between the courthouse where Bell was tried for an offense no one denies he committed and the site of the “white tree” that, with all-too-fitting symbolism, has since been cut down. “Free the Jena 6” has become a rallying cry, perhaps because, “Stop Informal Segregation and Prosecutorial Overzealousness That Disproportionately Affects African-Americans Here and Elsewhere” won’t fit on T-shirt or a placard. (And the Rev. Sharpton, who has led rallies in support of self-segregation in ethnic theme houses at Cornell University, is especially ill-positioned to lead the way forward in this respect.)
The 21st century’s civil rights movement will need more sympathetic poster children than the Jena 6. These young men weren’t exactly engaged in peaceful civil disobedience when they ran afoul of the law. The injustice here is not that they are being prosecuted for their crime-it is that the many other wrongs that preceded the assault have been inadequately addressed. When you think about it, the logic that underlies the demand to free the Jena 6 comes down to this: These six young men were justified in kicking their lone victim senseless because other people who shared his race committed offenses against other black students. This sort of racial vendetta is diametrically opposed to the message of social justice and cross-racial understanding that underlies the civil rights movement of the last century.
And yet, all along, Jena has had a better symbol for civil rights on offer. The anonymous black students who defied the informal segregation at the high school and sat under the perversely misnamed “white tree” are the movement’s true legatees. They have received so little attention that I don’t even know their names or how many such brave and defiant young people there were.
I’m seeing a lot of nuanced, sophisticated and innovative thinking about race and race issues by Blacks; reflexive old-style civil rights rhetoric from liberal Whites. If someone can point me in a different direction I’d be appreciative. We’ve got to address the problem of racism together.
LATER - Mark Sorkin:
I know at least one of them, Mr. Ford. His name is Bryant Purvis, and he stands accused of aggravated second-degree battery.
Fighting the first backlash is a matter for the authorities. Fighting the second requires some rhetorical skill. It seems crucial to me to make sure that the story begins with those nooses, not with the fight. And to acknowledge that the Jena Six are not angels; they don’t have to be.
Er, or maybe they shouldn’t have to be.
A movement or a turd? Gingrich gets the runs…
Last November Fortune magazine called Newt Gingrich the ‘08 Stealth Candidate and quoted him thusly:
“I’m going to tell you something, and whether or not it’s plausible given the world you come out of is your problem,” he tells Fortune. “I am not ‘running’ for president. I am seeking to create a movement to win the future by offering a series of solutions so compelling that if the American people say I have to be president, it will happen.” So he’s running, only without yet formally saying so.
I headlined my post, a movement or a turd? Nearly a year later it’s looking more like the runs.
Yesterday on Fox News Sunday:
GINGRICH: Next Monday, Randy Evans, who’s been my friend and adviser for many, many years, will hold a press briefing. Randy will spend the next three weeks checking with people around the country.
If he reports back that, in fact, we think the resources are there for a real race… then close to that we’ll face a very big decision in late October. If there aren’t enough resources, I’m not for doing unrealistic things.
WALLACE: But why even go through it unless, if you get the money, you’d run?
GINGRICH: I think the odds are very high, if we ended up with that level of pledges, we’d—I don’t see as a citizen how you could turn that down.
WALLACE: So you’d run.
GINGRICH: I think you’d be compelled to… I think any citizen—how could you turn to all of your fellow citizens—if they walk in and say, “You know, we think you’re the person who ought to debate Senator Clinton, and we think you’re the person who can actually explain where we ought to go,” how could you turn to them and say, “Well, I’m too busy?” Couldn’t do it… But I want the commitments first. I don’t want to go out on personal ambition.
Personal ambition aside the Dems are licking their chops at the notion of a Newt candidacy.
Remember, here in Georgia we know Newt. Exit polls conducted with last year’s election found that 63 percent of Georgia voters said he wouldn’t make a good president.
Via Steve Benen, “Can’t you just feel the Newtmentum?”
Online ads we want
C-Net’s Declan McCullagh suggests the global nature of the web makes legal action unlikely but a “technological arms race” wherein the software is defeated and developers come up with counter-measures and sites come up with counter-counter-measures is possible.
He and host Bob Garfield go on to agree that viewing a web page while blocking the ad is morally akin to stealing. Wladimir Palant, the 27-year-old German developer of the open-source Adblock project has heard it all before:
...this guy thinks that he as the website owner has every right in the world and the visitors that pay him indirectly don’t have any rights at all. He would probably prefer if ad blockers were forbidden by law. And the hosts file. And the remote control because it allows you to zap away to another TV channel when the advertisements come. Actually, I don’t think you have the right to turn away from your TV when the advertisements come - you watched the show so now you have to pay.
I’m with Palant; the need to appeal to morality is the mark of a faltering, lazy ad industry. I recall the day when ads were cultural touchstones, all the buzz among me and my young friends for their style and wit and trendy sophisticated appeal. Advertisers have no one to blame but themselves for poisoning that well.
Having lived in the heart of marketing mania and them moved to a place where advertising space goes unsold, I can tell you that I want advertising. As a blogger who’s embedded Apple ads, I am happy to have them online too. I think we all do. But few of us believe it a moral obligation.
Advertisers may want to construct a moral code that makes us watch, but do they really believe that will make us buy or accept the advertisers message? Ads that are well-produced and relevant and that do not interrupt or appear in a cacophony of clutter are effective. Those are ads we want and that’s the advertiser’s challenge.
While on the topic, Om Malik has 5 Ways to Make Web Video Ads Work:
AdAge in its latest issue offers up a few key lessons for brand advertisers and how they can make web video as work. These are tips are based on a recent study of video consumption habits by TNS, done on behalf of AOL and Google.
- Video-sharing sites are getting a bigger share of visits (77%) versus news sites (55%) and broadcast TV sites (49%). Lesson: Good for YouTube, not so good for old tubes.
- 43% of those polled want ads to be interactive and clickable. Lesson: Don’t put stupid TV-style commercials that are not actionable.
- Videos are for sharing. Lesson: Big media, listen to CBS Interactive’s Quincy Smith.
- 52% want ads to be relevant to them, 46% think they need to be relevant to web site’s content. Lesson: Consumer electronics ads next to people being blown up aren’t going to work. Make your ads contextual, relevant and of course tasteful.
- Make ads fun if you want attention. Consumers feel annoyed by videos ads today. Lesson: Simple enough.
Giuliani and the falling sky
“I do think he rose to greatness after the World Trade Center, but it wasn’t because he was an expert on terrorism but because he was an affected and obviously level-headed leader when we didn’t need cheerleading, we needed honesty,” Gross said. “That’s the tone he set. But it wasn’t because he was some kind of expert on terrorism.”
That from a major WaPo piece noting that Rudy’s rhetoric about what he calls the “terrorists’ war on us” contrasts sharply with his record. Where now he criticizes Democrats for treating terrorism as a law enforcement matter, at the time of the World Trade Center attack he was all about the rule of law:
Giuliani’s desire to keep terrorism in perspective could be discerned even on Sept. 11, 2001, and in the days following, when he sought to marginalize the attackers and the threat they represented. Asked on the day of the attacks whether they constituted an “act of war,” he said, “I don’t know that I want to use those words. . . . I’m totally confident that American democracy and the American rule of law will prevail.”
In an interview later that month, he noted that one of the inexplicable things about the attacks was that, unlike the attack on Pearl Harbor, they lacked broader context: “This has no purpose,” he said. “They’re not going to gain freedom as a result of this. They’re not going to win a war as a result. They’re not going to stop us. America’s not going to stop as a result of this.”
But Giuliani’s rhetoric changed as time went on. Campaigning for President Bush in 2004, he described the attacks as part of an existential war for survival—“the worst crisis in our history”—that had been going on for years, but that Clinton and others had failed to recognize. It was, he said in his speech at the 2004 GOP convention in New York, “much like observing Europe appease Hitler or trying to accommodate the Soviet Union through the use of mutually assured destruction.” [...]
Hauer, the former emergency commissioner, said he does not know what to make of the rhetorical shift. In the 1990s, Giuliani “wanted to play the threat down,” he said. “Rudy felt like talking about [terrorism] was alarmist. He never talked about it except in reaction to something. Now he’s screaming that the sky is falling.”
On the oft-noted bad decision to put his Office of Emergency Management at 7 World Trade Center:
Giuliani and his advisers have rejected criticism of the site selection, saying no one could have predicted the collapse of the towers. But Louis Anemone, a top-ranking police officer who has since retired, disagrees. The World Trade Center “was number one on our list of the most vulnerable and critical and symbolic locations in the city. The place had been attacked once before, and they had been threatening to bring those towers down again,” Anemone said. “For those of us who lived and breathed this stuff day in and day out, it boggled the imagination.”
For more on all of this, see Wayne Barrett’s Rudy Giuliani’s Five Big Lies About 9/11 and Peter Boyer’s Is what New York never liked about Rudy Giuliani exactly what the heartland loves?
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Racial disparities in charging and sentencing
Nationally, black youths are significantly more likely to be tried as adults than are white youths, according to a January report from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. The same report states that while black youths make up 16 percent of the general adolescent population, they make up 38 percent of the approximately 100,000 youths being held in local and state detention facilities.
The irony, some say, is that mass outpouring of support in cases like the Jena 6 may, in fact, obscure the real issues, where many criminal-defense lawyers can point to examples of prosecutorial zeal when dealing with black defendants.
“The public at large basically thinks that these cases are aberrations, and that’s one reason why so much attention is paid to them,” says Professor Nunn. “It’s the idea that it’s the redneck sheriff doing this and not the way we sort of stack the odds against black criminal defendants. We can point to a few bad apples, say, ‘See, it’s them,’ and the rest of us feel great because we’re demonstrating how we disagree with racism.”
Surely there’s a transcript out there somewhere.
But a defendant doesn’t always have to call witnesses. The State bears the burden of proof and the defendant can choose to leave the State to its burden. This is a frequent jury instruction and almost always a question during voir dire in a criminal case.
It is counter-intuitive, for sure. You have been accused of doing something, you tell your side of the story. If you have a defense, an alibi, you will present it. Prospective jurors, upon question, usually state that they understand why the defendant can choose not to present a defense. But do they believe it? I think the Jena Six coverage has a hint of that. He didn’t call any witnesses!?! is the incredulous tone.
He’s also the first place I’ve seen it noted that it was not just an all white jury, “the jury pool was all white. Which included a friend of the victim’s father.”
Racial disparities in death penalty in GA
The AJC’s special report on the death penalty in Georgia found there are indeed racial disparities:
The death penalty carries a racial bias in Georgia, but it’s not what most people think.
White killers are more likely to face capital prosecution and land on death row, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found. The reason: White killers are more likely to kill white people.
A statistical analysis shows Georgia prosecutors were more than twice as likely to seek the death penalty when the victim was white. [...]
“Black victims have to be really, really brutalized before they’re treated the same as a white-victim case,” [University of Maryland criminologist Ray] Paternoster said. [...]
The analysis showed a similar difference in sentencing. When facing capital prosecution, killers of whites were more than twice as likely to land on death row. Eighteen of the last 20 murderers executed in Georgia were white. All but one killed white people.
Remember: Do Not Call Registrations Expire
Numbers placed on the registry, begun in June 2003, are valid for five years. For the millions of people who signed onto the list in its early days, their numbers will automatically drop off beginning next June if they do not enroll again. “It is incredibly quick and easy to do,” Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection, said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “It was so easy for people to sign up in the first instance. It will be just as easy for them to re-up.”
But Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., says people should not be forced to re-register to keep telemarketers at bay. Doyle introduced legislation this week, with bipartisan support, to make registrations permanent. “When someone takes the time and effort to say ‘I don’t want these kinds of calls coming into my house,’ they shouldn’t have to keep a calendar to find out when they have to re-up to keep this nuisance from happening,” Doyle said in an interview.
The FTC built the five-year expiration date into the program to account for changes, such as people who move and switch their phone number, Parnes said. Doyle, however, points out that the list is purged each month of numbers that have been disconnected and reassigned to new customers. People can register their home and cell phone numbers or file complaints at http://www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222.
Via James Joyner:
Why not simply outlaw the practice, period, except to people who have specifically opted in? This would, I’d wager, result in a much smaller database and make it far easier for consumers while also making it less likely that companies will be fined for accidental violation.
Cellphone hell: Gphone heaven on the horizon?
We’re trying to get new cellphones. We’ve been with Sprint out of momentum; and a decent contract. We’d stay but we’ve got lousy phones. Apparently Sprint wants new customers but cares bupkis about the old.
With a family plan, 2 phones (one 2-years-old the other 1) we can’t get a free or reasonably priced phone - even for signing another 2 year contract.
So goodbye Sprint.
But there are no easy alternatives and who among us wants to spend hours and hours and hours digging into the details of cell phone contracts? I wanted Google to win their points with the FCC over the 700 MHz spectrum auction.
Alas, They lost.
But Robert X. Cringely suggests there may be a fall-back plan. Bob’s just guessing, of course, but then he’s a pretty good guesser:
First let’s start by looking at the infrastructure Google has already built or committed to building - the largest fiber backbone in the world and the largest and most widely distributed data center build-out in the world. Both are FAR in excess of Google’s current or even future requirements UNLESS they are also intended to work with a massive 700-MHz wireless network.
Imagine a hybrid wireless broadband mesh network using 700-MHz connections for backhaul and some truly mobile links and WiFi for local service. Google has enough experience with WiFi in Mountain View to know that it isn’t, by itself, a good solution for wide area networks. The key failing of metro WiFi networks is backhaul to the Internet backbone. But if Google used its 700 MHz band for that AND implemented it as a true mesh network, there would easily be enough capacity to serve almost any size network given a suitable number of backbone connections. [...]
Google has experience, too, with hybrid wireless networks. Every Google employee has the chance to take a company bus to work and every Google bus has an EVDO-to-WiFi bridge so Googlers can surf the net on their way to work.
It would be really cool if this Google hybrid network was truly flat and could be maintained entirely within a single address space like, for example, the 76 billion billion billion IPv6 addresses Google already owns. The sudden existence of a massive IPv6 network would throw other ISPs into a tizzy and quickly drag the rest of the net into the 21st century, something else I could see as a Google ambition.
Finally, what links all of this together is something else I wrote about long ago - the Google Cube. This is an access device that contains 700-MHz and WiFi radios, a tiny Linux or Linux-likeserver, and a few gigs of flash RAM memory cache. It’s these Google Cubes that will mesh together, acting as both WiFi access points and 700 MHz mesh backhaul devices. Throw in some local caching, video preloading, and truly local DNS service and suddenly you have a pretty substantial network infrastructure that is not only massive and self-healing, IT IS ENTIRELY PAID FOR BY CUSTOMERS. All Google needs to provide are several thousand points-of-presence (cell towers) to connect the local mesh to the Internet backbone.
Google couldn’t do this with WiFi alone, but with 700-MHz meshing and backhaul they could make it work fairly easily and the entire network could be deployed in a couple months.
For those who can’t think past search, imagine this also as Google’s key to dominating local- and location-based search.
Forget about net neutrality and forget about making nice-nice with broadband ISPs OR phone companies. Google would overnight become the largest U.S. ISP with direct and very high-performance access to its customers, including those using the new Google Phone or any other phone that supports WiFi connections, like the iPhone and many others. Google becomes the biggest and lowest-cost ISP and potentially the biggest and lowest-cost mobile phone company in the bargain.
Now that’s what I am hoping for!
We don’t comment on market rumour or speculation. However, Google is committed to providing users with access to the world’s information, and mobile becomes more important to those efforts every day. We’re collaborating with partners worldwide to bring Google search and applications to mobile users everywhere. However, we have nothing to announce at this time.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
The McDade standard
The AJC’s special report on the death penalty in Georgia looked at 1,315 murder cases from 1995 through 2004 that could have been prosecuted for death. Prosecutors pursued a death sentence for one in four:
“It would make as much sense just to execute every 10th or every 100th murderer [as] it would be to figure out the rhyme or reason for why we’re picking the ones to get the death penalty,” said Atlanta defense attorney Jack Martin. [...]
Georgia’s 49 DAs use their own standards and values to decide whether to pursue death. They assess the strength of the case, the character of the victim, the wishes of the victim’s family and, sometimes, their gut.
“You know it when you see it,” Douglas County District Attorney David McDade said.
For more on McDade, see From “activist judges” to taking on “willfull prosecutorsÃ¢â‚¬Â�
Major AJC series: the Death Penalty in Georgia
From the introduction to day one of a four-day AJC series on the death penalty in Georgia:
Getting the death penalty in Georgia is as predictable as a lightning strike. Thirty-five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the death penalty nationwide after finding it was arbitrary and capricious in Georgia.
It still is. Reforms that persuaded the high court to reinstate the death penalty have fallen far short of the state’s promises, the Journal-Constitution has found.
• Horrible murders are sometimes treated more leniently than lesser crimes. Reginald Acres, for instance, avoided death for viciously stabbing and killing his wife, infant daughter and a pregnant relative. But David Aaron Perkins is on death row for stabbing a drinking buddy and crushing his skull with a whiskey bottle.
• For 25 years, Georgia’s Supreme Court has flubbed a critical duty, repeatedly citing cases that had been overturned on appeal to justify other death sentences. (Day Four of this series will explore this issue in depth.)
• More prosecutors and juries are rejecting lethal injection in favor of life without parole. Since 2000, juries have decided against death in two of every three sentencing trials. The trend makes each remaining death sentence more out of step with punishment for similar crimes.
The newspaper’s investigation explored the darkest depths of human behavior. Court records told tales of torture, mutilation, child murder - the kinds of cases that give cops and jurors nightmares. They were also, the newspaper found, the kinds that often didn’t get the death penalty.
The Republican campaign against children and families
Political Insider has this latest example. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) now insures 6.6 million low-income children:
The Good News: House and Senate negotiators struck a deal on PeachCare’s parent program Friday that would expand the program by $35 billion.
The Bad News: President Bush already announced he’d veto it.
Why? It would extend coverage to 4 million more kids by 2012.
As I reported last month, Tucker Carlson’s ratings are a sinkhole that is dragging down the whole of MSNBC’s schedule. I wondered when MSNBC’s programmers might come out of their nepotism-induced coma and drop the ax on Tucker. There are days when his numbers are barely half of either his lead-in, his lead-out, or both.
It would stand to reason that the network honchos would want to jettison the biggest loser on their team so that they might actually make some money during that time period. Certainly the programs adjacent to Tucker would be love to see him go as he is hurting their performance as well. Last June, in an apparent effort to staunch the bleeding, one of the two daily hours allotted to Tucker was replaced by a straight newscast. But half of Tucker is still a whole flop.
So what will MSNBC do now? I don’t know. But I do know that rumors a year ago that Tucker had been fired elicited this impassioned protest from cable’s fortunate son:“It’s bullshit. It’s total bullshit. I talked to Abrams last night. I’ve got another year on my contract. That’s my comment: Bullshit.”
If I’m not mistaken, I would conclude that he viewed the rumors of his demise as some sort of “bullshit,” but I could be wrong. However, I’m fairly sure that I’m correct in calculating that a year has transpired since his blustery declaration that he had another year on his contract. The expiration would come next month, to be precise.
Rudy & Hillary: Only one or THE only one
Media Matters has noted a JustHillary.com headline falsely labeling Clinton as the only Dem not to condemn MoveOn’s ad:
The JustHillary.com headline read in full: “BETRAYAL: Giuliani blasts Hillary for being only Dem not to condemn MoveOn's ad and linked to a September 21 article by Glenn Thrush and Craig Gordon posted on Newsday.com that reported that “Clinton was the only one of 25 senators, all Democrats, who opposed Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn's [R-TX] amendment to 'strongly condemn' MoveOn.Org for running newspaper ads referring to the general as 'Betray Us.' “
A version of Thrush and Gordon's article, which correctly noted that Clinton was “only one of 25 senators” to vote against the Cornyn amendment, rather than ”the only one of 25 senators,” was posted by baltimoresun.com.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Mitt Romney is not THE only leading Republican Presidential candidate to completely change positions on gay rights AND abortion AND gun control in a pathetic attempt to pander to conservative voters. Rudy’s flipped on guns:
“I’d like us to respect each other; I think we have very, very legitimate and mostly similar views,” Giuliani told NRA members, who clapped politely a dozen times during his 20-minute speech.
This is hysterical. I worked at Handgun Control, Inc. during the 90s. There were few elected officials who were as supportive of gun control as Rudy Giuliani. Here are a couple posts I’ve written about Rudy and guns over the past few months. I’ll be doing more:
I bet Rudy forgot to mention his support for national handgun licensing at the NRA today, too.
The hysterical thing will be if Wayne LaPierre and his crew at the NRA fall for Rudy’s “conversion.”
If I were a conservative I’d be offended by the condescension in these obvious attempts to snooker me.
LATER: Steve Benen on Rudy’s NRA pander:
Asked to explain the shift, a campaign spokesperson said Giuliani was “making a point that personal rights such as the 2nd Amendment are even more critical in a post-September 11th world.”
It’s hard to believe a serious presidential campaign could offer such a foolish rationale for obvious nonsense, and yet, here we are.
Friday, September 21, 2007
NOT NEWS: Hillary, I’m not a lesbian.
Did you see that Hillary has told the Advocate that she is not a Lesbian?
So much for my sources.
Real Freepers react:
She said: “I did not have sex with that women.” ...
Is Mrs. Bill Clinton saying the rumors are not true, or is she saying something else? ...
Was she tapping her foot in the bathroom again?
LATER: The Advocate story is posted.
Echo the old or herald the new?
The NYTimes says the protest in Jena echoes the old civil rights era:
In a slow-moving march that filled streets, spilled onto sidewalks and stretched for miles, more than 10,000 demonstrators rallied Thursday in this small town to protest the treatment of six black teenagers arrested in the beating of a white schoolmate last year.
Chanting slogans from the civil rights era and waving signs, protesters from around the nation converged in central Louisiana, where the charges have made this otherwise anonymous town of 3,000 people a high-profile arena in the debate on racial bias in the judicial system. [...]
Students, particularly those at historically black colleges, have also had a pivotal role in spreading the details. They poured into town after all-night bus rides. Many said they were happy to pick up the torch of the civil rights struggle.
“This is the first time something like this has happened for our generation,” said Eric Depradine, 24, a senior at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “You always heard about it from history books and relatives. This is a chance to experience it for ourselves.”
In those students I find promise and hope because from great problems greatness grows. This problem is as big an intractable as any we got. I believe this generation has what it takes to solve it.
“What I’m suggesting is we are experiencing a new form of racial inequality. We could think of Jim Crow as a nail. And the protest against Jim Crow were a hammer. And a hammer is an extremely effective tool when you’re dealing with a nail. Contemporary racial inequality is structural. It’s undercover. It is connected with also with sort of black achievement which is also going on at the same time. Contemporary racial inequality is a screw, and if you take a hammer and start pounding on a screw, you just end up with a mess which means we have to live with the fact that a new generation is going to have to innovate a screwdriver to deal with the new problem. And that screwdriver might not look anything like the hammer. And we can’t keep yelling at them to use a hammer for a new problem.”
To me that looks like the beginnings of a screwdriver down in Jena Louisiana.
Are the whites in Jena racist?
And, while we’re on the topic, what about the liberal blogoshphere?
On All Things Considered last July, Jena school board member Bill Fowler said:
As far as racial problems, our community is no different from any other community… I’m appalled at - announce that media coming in here painting us as the most racist community in the world. That is totally inaccurate and not true.
I am thinking Fowler’s right. But therein lies the real problem.
I’ve pointed time and time again to the 2005 South by Southwest keynote address by Malcolm Gladwell. If ever there was a time his point needed to be heard, it is now.
As Malcolm tells it, the great conductors of the world once innocently believed that men were innately better musicians than women and orchestras were male bastions. When, one day, through a set of fortuitous circumstances, a male maestro auditioned a woman he thought was a man (she auditioned from behind a screen) he hired her. And when screens were broadly adopted it became clear to everyone that women were every bit as talented musicians as men.
What once was “obvious,” that men were better musicians, is now obviously not.
His story is to illustrate the power and peril of subliminal snap judgments. Says Gladwell [@48:38]:
There are certain things about somebody that all of us are really really good at knowing right away, and certain things that we may think we’re good at knowing that we are profoundly not…
Sexual attractiveness, you can do like that…
When we have real experience with something we are good at making profoundly good snap judgments, but in almost every other situation where we do not have that level of expertise our snap judgments are bad. And as a society I feel we are way too cavalier about the products of our snap judgments.
After his talk, during the questions, Gladwell made this observation that I still have seen made no place else [@50:29]:
I have become convinced since writing this book that juries should never be able to see the defendants in a jury trial; that that is just crazy. Why? Because the kind of snap judgments a jury is likely to make about a defendant from seeing the defendant are all irrelevant…
Every year someone stands up and points out that there are huge differentials in the conviction rates and sentences for blacks and whites convicted of the same crime. And yet we make that observation and kind of shrug and say, “Well, that’s America.”
We don’t have to live with that. Why don’t we do something about it?
I would bet every dollar I own that if we put the defendant in a backroom and had the defendant answer all questions by email that the gap between black and white defendants, the sentences and conviction rates would shrink.
I absolutely believe that.
I do too.
Weak IP laws make the fashion industry thrive!
A dear friend who has been treated quite nicely by the publishing industry and is a beneficiary of the current copyright regime - one might even call him a copyright hawk - sent me this from The New Yorker hinting that even he can see that there are times where the extension of copyright works against the interests of an industry.
James Surowiecki, in The Piracy Paradox, finds that cheap (legal) knock-offs help keep the fashion industry healthy and profitable:
Congress now finds itself considering a bill, pushed by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, that would give original designs a legal protection similar to copyright.
Designers’ frustration at seeing their ideas mimicked is understandable. But this is a classic case where the cure may be worse than the disease. There’s little evidence that knockoffs are damaging the business. Fashion sales have remained more than healthy-estimates value the global luxury-fashion sector at a hundred and thirty billion dollars- and the high-end firms that so often see their designs copied have become stronger. More striking, a recent paper by the law professors Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman suggests that weak intellectual-property rules, far from hurting the fashion industry, have instead been integral to its success. The professors call this effect “the piracy paradox.”
The paradox stems from the basic dilemma that underpins the economics of fashion: for the industry to keep growing, customers must like this year’s designs, but they must also become dissatisfied with them, so that they’ll buy next year’s. Many other consumer businesses face a similar problem, but fashion-unlike, say, the technology industry-can’t rely on improvements in power and performance to make old products obsolete. Raustiala and Sprigman argue persuasively that, in fashion, it’s copying that serves this function, bringing about what they call “induced obsolescence.” Copying enables designs and styles to move quickly from early adopters to the masses. And since no one cool wants to keep wearing something after everybody else is wearing it, the copying of designs helps fuel the incessant demand for something new.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
From “activist judges” to taking on “willfull prosecutors”
Former state representative E. Wycliff Orr, a lawyer in Gainesville, GA, has an OpEd in the AJC today headlined, For a change, Georgia needs to choose justice. Starting with the quoted question, “Where’s the justice?” he looks at the outcomes in the Genarlow Wilson case and the Troy Davis case now before Georgia’s Supreme Court and calls for a more empowered judiciary:
For all the cries against “judicial activism” and for mandatory sentences that tie judges’ hands, do we really want judges who are reduced to the rigid, ritualistic application of “one-size-fits-all” outcomes? Do we want judges rendered powerless to create fair results based on the inevitable differences between cases?
Meanwhile, in Jena, LA right now there is underway what has the potential to be one of the most important civil rights protests in recent history:
Fanon Brown, 16, is one of [the protesters]: He told [Richard G. Jones, a reporter for The New York Times] that he left Philadelphia at 3 a.m. Wednesday and got to Jena 27 hours later. He is here, he says, not just for the six black boys who were arrested for beating a white classmate after a series of incidents in the town, but for the larger things he said the case represents about race and justice in America:I can’t believe that after all these years we still have deformities in our justice system. We have to free the Jena Six but we’ve got to go home and take care of this racism thing.’
What all of these cases have in common is a prosecutor who has used his discretion (and in all of the cases mentioned, the prosecutor was a white male) to bring charges that are demonstrably out of whack with what is the norm; or, rather, the norm for similar offenses committed by similar white individuals.
Conservatives have successfully thrust the “activist judge” moniker into the popular lexicon. Worse, they have successfully codified it into onerous limits on judicial discretion to right obvious wrongs. Liberals should not just fight back this challenge, but they should take on willful prosecutors who fight on beyond all evidence, reason and rationality and build a justice system that includes real safeguards against willfully discriminatory prosecutions.
The indisputable fact is that the very large majority of all cases prosecuted never get to court. They are, instead, settled in negotiated plea bargains. And the decision of how, what and whether to prosecute is decided entirely through Prosecutorial Discretion:
Courts recognize a prosecutor’s broad discretion to initiate and conduct criminal prosecutions, in part out of regard for the separation of powers doctrine and in part because “the decision to prosecute is particularly ill-suited to judicial review.” In the absence of contrary evidence, courts presume that criminal prosecutions are undertaken in good faith and in a nondiscriminatory manner. So long as a prosecutor has probable cause to believe that the accused has committed an offense, the decision to prosecute rests within her discretion. A prosecutor has broad authority to decide whether to investigate, grant immunity, or permit a plea bargain, and to determine whether to bring charges, what charges to bring, when to bring charges, and where to bring charges. [...]
There are other limits to a prosecutor’s discretion, and the judiciary has a responsibility to protect individuals from prosecutorial conduct that violates constitutional rights. Such conduct usually involves either selective prosecution, which denies equal protection of the law, or vindictive prosecution, which violates due process.
Emphasis mine. It’s time that liberals right the wrong of willfully discriminatory prosecutors and do it in a manner similar to - and with as much vehemence as - the way big ‘C’ Conservatives have taken on activist judges. To those who point to Mike Nifong as evidence that the system works, I point to Nifong, too, to contrast him with David McDade.
Nifong is not the only out of control rogue prosecutor. The question is whether the only reason we caught him, the only reason we stopped him, is because he went after three white guys at the eighth ranked university in the nation.
David McDade went after a 17-year-old black kid engaged in the kind of behavior that is objectionable and makes most of us uncomfortable but is, unfortunately, more common than we’d like to admit. He successfully prosecuted that kid for consensual sex and fought fiercely against reconsideration.
That fierce fight includes McDade calling the kid a rapist even after a jury found him innocent of the charge. That fierce fight meant that when the girl’s mother spoke out in defense of Genarlow, she was subject to a visit that reeks of intimidation from an assistant DA and an investigator with a tape recorder. That fierce fight lead McDade to widely distribute a sex tape - an ethically dubious act intended to preserve the conviction and turn public opinion against the accused - that was judged by the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta to be a violation of federal child pornography laws so quite possibly, a criminal act.
Jimmy Carter is only the most prominent among those to observe:
The racial dimension of the case is likewise hard to ignore and perhaps unfortunately has had an impact on the final outcome of the case… There is some statistical evidence reported by various non-profit agencies in Georgia, leading me to believe that white minor defendants in the same circumstances as Mr. Wilson’s receive far lesser forms of punishment.
In the Boston Review last summer, Glenn C. Loury asks, Why Are So Many Americans in Prison?
Despite a sharp national decline in crime, American criminal justice has become crueler and less caring than it has been at any other time in our modern history. Why?
The question has no simple answer, but the racial composition of prisons is a good place to start. The punitive turn in the nation’s social policy-intimately connected with public rhetoric about responsibility, dependency, social hygiene, and the reclamation of public order-can be fully grasped only when viewed against the backdrop of America’s often ugly and violent racial history… This historical resonance between the stigma of race and the stigma of imprisonment serves to keep alive in our public culture the subordinating social meanings that have always been associated with blackness. Race helps to explain why the United States is exceptional among the democratic industrial societies in the severity and extent of its punitive policy and in the paucity of its social-welfare institutions.
Slavery ended a long time ago, but the institution of chattel slavery and the ideology of racial subordination that accompanied it have cast a long shadow. I speak here of the history of lynching throughout the country; the racially biased policing and judging in the South under Jim Crow and in the cities of the Northeast, Midwest, and West to which blacks migrated after the First and Second World Wars; and the history of racial apartheid that ended only as a matter of law with the civil-rights movement. It should come as no surprise that in the post-civil rights era, race, far from being peripheral, has been central to the evolution of American social policy.
The political scientist Vesla Mae Weaver, in a recently completed dissertation, examines policy history, public opinion, and media processes in an attempt to understand the role of race in this historic transformation of criminal justice. She argues-persuasively, I think-that the punitive turn represented a political response to the success of the civil-rights movement. Weaver describes a process of “frontlash” in which opponents of the civil-rights revolution sought to regain the upper hand by shifting to a new issue. Rather than reacting directly to civil-rights developments, and thus continuing to fight a battle they had lost, those opponents-consider George Wallace’s campaigns for the presidency, which drew so much support in states like Michigan and Wisconsin-shifted attention to a seemingly race-neutral concern over crime.
Whether or not you agree with Loury - and I believe his piece makes a powerfull case - Richard Moran, a professor of sociology and criminology at Mount Holyoke College, has documented that there is malicious prosecution:
My recently completed study of the 124 exonerations of death row inmates in America from 1973 to 2007 indicated that 80, or about two-thirds, of their so-called wrongful convictions resulted not from good-faith mistakes or errors but from intentional, willful, malicious prosecutions by criminal justice personnel.
What Duke and Genarlow and Jena all have in common is willful prosecutorial intent. It’s time we on the Left do something about it!
Credit Card contracts
I got an amendment to my AmEx card contract in the mail yesterday. I threw it in the trash today.
In March Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren discussed the abusive lending practices of credit card companies with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. You may consider it merely obfuscatory:
GROSS: We were talking about how complicated and inscrutable the language on most credit card contracts is, and you once did an experiment about this with some your students at Harvard. Would you tell us about this?
Ms. WARREN: Well, it was not a deliberate experiment. I had said a couple of harsh things about credit card companies a couple of times during the course of my bankruptcy class, which was a third-year class in the spring. In other words, I had students that were just a couple of months away from being full-fledged Harvard Law School graduates, and so a student came into my office early one morning and tossed down a credit card agreement in front of me, a solicitation, and it said 3 percent cash back. It had a big lime green sticker on the front of it. And he said, `Now, Professor Warren, even you would have to admit this looks like a great deal.’ And I said, `Well, I’ll tell you what, let’s see.’
So I walked back to the photocopy machine and I made a photocopy front and back of this offer, and I took it in and I passed it out to my bankruptcy class, nearly 80 students, and I said, `OK, committee of the whole. You can all talk about it, figure it out however you want. Tell me--I just want you to tell me two things. What’s the effective interest rate on this card and how do you get your 3 percent cash back?’ And, you know, the people kind of chuckled and I said, `Go.’ And I looked at the clock. And the students started calling out, `Oh, look down here in clause 21, and it says--oh, wait, no.’ And then somebody else would say, `Well, wait. That’s taken back over here in clause 14,’ and they went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.
It took an entire class, working together, calling out, trying to reason, putting fingers in the right places, until they finally figured out that they think the base rate on that card was 17.99 percent and you only got 3 percent cash back when you were paying 17.99 percent interest on the card. In other words, it was a 14.99 percent interest card, and it took 80 near-lawyers the better part of an hour to figure that out. Now you tell me what chance the ordinary customer has to sit down and read it and know what the terms of his or her credit card are.
Erik Jensen update
The two met ten years ago at Highlands Ranch high school, where they played in a well-named punk-rock band, Troublebound. Nate came from a troubled family, Erik from a wealthy one, but the two became close friends and confidants.
In 1998, they both were accused of murdering Nate’s mother, Julie. Between the time the two boys caught the case and when they stepped before a judge, the massacre at Columbine occurred. Although they were juveniles, both were charged as adults and convicted of first-degree murder. Which means both are serving mandatory sentences of life without parole.
Nate was allegedly sexually abused by his mother; since the trial details of that abuse have become public. Frontline’s graphic questioning of him on the topic made the New York Times reviewer squirm. He filed for a new trial last month.
Erik’s legal situation is even bleaker. He and friends had suspected the abuse and reported it to their parents who contacted social workers. No one investigated. Erik says he was waiting in an adjoining room unaware of what was going on when the murder occurred.
Frontline did an excellent job of allowing both he and his parents to tell their story (his parents have set up the Pendulum Foundation to bring attention to juvenile justice issues). The latest:
The Jensens are pinning their hopes to a new clemency board established by Governor Bill Ritter. Erik has exhausted all of his appeal options in the state; his parents are now prepared to take his case to the federal courts in the next few months. And Curt Jensen, Erik’s father, says he’s willing to fight all the way to the Supreme Court.
“He’s at Limon now and he likes the place there, and he’s not associated with anybody or anything so he likes being a loner in that respect, he’s adjusted a lot better,” Jensen says of his son, who’d hinted to Frontline that he might commit suicide if he wasn’t freed.
Erik’s story is an American tragedy, a horrible miscarriage of justice. They deserve to be heard in the governor’s office or the Federal courts.