RSSCategory: law and order

How We Got Here: The Debate II

March 9, 2011 | By | Reply More
How We Got Here: The Debate II

To continue…

The Whiskey Rebellion more or less blew up in Alexander Hamilton’s face. The tax he pushed through congress on whiskey that triggered the entire affair was shortly thereafter repealed and it was a while before the federal government tried to impose internal taxes. One of the stated goals of the revolution was to end taxation without representation, but in practical terms this meant an end to taxation, period.

The federal government used tariffs and land sales to pay off the debt incurred by the revolutionary war. Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana was still done by a combination of the two plus borrowing. Generally, tariffs were kept low, to encourage volume of trade. Some high tariffs were employed in the 1820s and 1830s as protectionist measures to level the field with Britain, which was in the midst of its “workshop of the world” period. The South hated these tariffs because it raised the price of manufactures and shipping, which impacted on their trade which was almost entirely agricultural.

It was different in the states. Property taxes early became a source of state revenue. The definition of “property” for the purposes of such taxes stretched far beyond the bounds we would recognize or accept today and under Jackson came to include just about anything a person owned. Local reaction to such impositions varied by city and state, but rarely rose to the level of rebellion.

Federal internal taxes did not come into play until the Civil War. The need to raise revenue in huge amounts and quickly necessitated the creation of the first income tax, among others, including a vast array of excise taxes and licensing. There were special corporate taxes, stamp taxes for legal documents, and inheritance taxes.

Most of these were phased out after the Civil War. Interestingly, the Republicans—a new party formed just before the Civil War which became the second national party, supplanting the archaic Whigs—kept two elements of the new tax system: high tariffs and taxes on liquor and tobacco. High tariffs were protectionist measures. The excises on liquor and tobacco were not greatly challenged because they coincided with the growing Temperance Movement, which was becoming politically significant.

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How We Got Here: the Debate I

March 6, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
How We Got Here: the Debate I

This will be a rather lengthy piece. It is my intention here to examine the historical underpinnings of what is happening today in the fight between the Right and everyone else. This will be part one of a two-part essay. Bear with me, it all does lead somewhere.

The talking heads have been bloviating for decades now about the function of government vis a vis a so-called Welfare State. The Right claims that having the government “take care of” people is a violation of the American tradition of independence and self-reliance and will sap our resources, both fiscal and moral. The Left has argued that such government programs are there to protect people who have few resources from the depredations of the wealthy and an economy that fluctuates as a normal element of its functioning and that it is the responsibility of the better-off to aid those who are left without recourse in such a system.

That’s the basics of the debate. The Right says no, people should look out for themselves. The Left says many people can’t and it isn’t right to let them starve in the streets. The Right says it has no desire to see anyone starve in the streets but rejects the idea that others are responsible for the perhaps bad choices of individuals who have been unable to take advantage of an open system. The Left counters by pointing out the system is not as open as the Right believes and built in to its workings is the inevitability that a certain number of people simply won’t be able to participate. Even if the Right then agrees, they assert that it is not the job of the State, using tax payer money, to off-set this imbalance. The Left says it is if people vote for it and even if they don’t there’s a moral imperative involved. The Right counters that the State is not the instrument for pursuing moral imperatives.

Well.

Let me be up front here—I think the Right has it wrong. They base their philosophy, if that’s what it is, on an idea of equality that is unsupportable. In the narrowest sense, they argue that our system is open to the extent that everyone has an equal shot at some measure of success and if they fail it is either because they were lazy, foolish, or unlucky. The government can functionally do nothing about any of that.

The argument falls apart on its face. Equality in this country is a principle concerning representation before the State. The State in this sense is the community as a whole, both public and private. The ideas that we are not born to a Station in life which determines at the outset how far an individual might go through his or her own efforts. It was never intended as an assessment of talent or a measure of will or a guarantee of achievement. It is only a promise of access. Because people are not equal as individuals.

They aren’t and there’s not much point in arguing about it. Intelligence, physical attributes, proclivities, all these things vary widely throughout any population group and to argue that, if somehow we could take away all social obstacles, everyone would be exactly the same is absurd.

The Right seems to argue that because this is true, the rest of us have no responsibility for the fundamentally unequal achievements of any one, or group of, individual. They discount social obstacles. Not completely, because when an individual rises above a certain level, reaches the precincts of success, and has done so from straitened beginnings, many on the Right like to point to that individual as an exemplar of succeeding in spite of the circumstances of his or her life. So there is a tacit recognition that social conditions matter, but only as an ennobling aspect to a Horatio Alger story. The question really is why those conditions keep so many others down, but that, as much as the successful individual’s achievement is credited to personal qualities, is a matter of personal failure, not attributable to anyone else.

Which seems to make success and failure a matter of choice. Exclusively. Ergo, the tax payer, through the medium of the State, has no responsibility for such failures.

This can only be true if the assertion of equality is true as an innate quality.

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PayPal freezes account of Bradley Manning legal defense fund

February 24, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
PayPal freezes account of Bradley Manning legal defense fund

Since when is it against the law to help anyone–ANYONE–afford their legal bills? Well, PayPal has decided that it has an “internal policy” that justifies shutting down the account of a group that is attempting to help Bradley Manning pay his legal bills. This shutdown is despicable. With this logic, we should also shut down all public defender offices and thus require all poor people accused of crimes to fend for themselves. If you would like to write to PayPal to express your opinion on this matter, follow this link provided by Firedoglake.

Here’s FDL’s suggested template:

According to the Bradley Manning Support Network, PayPal has frozen the account of the group that supports Pfc. Bradley Manning’s legal defense.

Citizens around the world have donated to the Bradley Manning Support Network to fund the legal defense of Pfc. Manning. This grassroots activism is now hindered because of a political policy decision by PayPal to block these funds.

The Bradley Manning Support Network has not been accused of any impropriety. Your company has essentially admitted that there is no legal reason to shut down account access, and that it is simply an internal policy decision. Additionally, the organization has complied with every reasonable demand from PayPal to restore access to its account – short of the extraordinary and unnecessary step of providing PayPal direct access to its checking account.

PayPal should drop its unreasonable demands of the Bradley Manning Support Network and restore access to the group’s PayPal account.

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Matt Taibbi asks: “Why isn’t Wall Street in jail?”

February 22, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
Matt Taibbi asks: “Why isn’t Wall Street in jail?”

At DemocracyNow, Matt Taibbi discusses why, on Wall Street, Nobody goes to jail.”

Every single former investigator or current investigator that I talked to said the same thing: Madoff went to jail because the wrong people suffered. You know, it was famous actors. It was, you know, the glitterati in New York. If these were teachers and firemen and all the usual suspects—you know, look at the—we have a million people in foreclosure in this country right now, and a lot of them are there because of predatory lending and because of this fraud scheme, but there are no criminal prosecutions. I think that’s the reality now, is that we don’t see anybody being criminally targeted unless their victims were powerful people themselves.

We have two-and-a-half million people in jail this country, you know, more than a million who are in jail for nonviolent crimes. And yet, we couldn’t find a single person on Wall Street to do even a day in jail for losing 40 percent of the world’s wealth in a criminal fraud scheme? And that tells you that we have—this goes beyond the cliché that rich people have better lawyers and they have an advantage. This is a step beyond that. This is a situation where the system is completely corrupted, and it’s true regulatory capture. The SEC and the Justice Department are essentially subsidiaries of Wall Street.

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Bankster agitprop

February 21, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
Bankster agitprop

ZeroHedge has earned a spot in my RSS feed. A diverse group of mostly pseudonymous bloggers who consistently produce excellent financial reporting, many times breaking scandals and should-be scandals before the mainstream media. They focus on the themes of intrigue in the world of high finance, corruption, politics, and the nexus where those areas intersect.

Over the past month or so, I’ve noticed an increasing amount of visual propaganda coming from ZeroHedge, and some of it is quite amusing. For the latest entry, they lampoon the news that Angelo Mozilo (the bankster behind the collapse of Countrywide financial) is going scott-free. Here’s some background on Mozilo, from the New York Times:

The conclusion by prosecutors that Mr. Mozilo, 72, did not engage in criminal conduct while directing Countrywide will likely fuel broad concerns that few high-level executives of financial companies are being held accountable for the actions that led to the financial crisis of 2008.

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The ongoing shame of Guantanamo

February 17, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More
The ongoing shame of Guantanamo

Guantanamo has become a recruiting tool for our enemies. The legal framework behind Guantanamo has failed completely, resulting in only one conviction. President Bush’s own Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, wants to close it. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, wants to close it. The first step to reclaiming America’s standing in the world has to be closing this facility. As president, Barack Obama will close the detention facility at Guantanamo. He will reject the Military Commissions Act, which allowed the U.S. to circumvent Geneva Conventions in the handling of detainees. He will develop a fair and thorough process based on the Uniform Code of Military Justice to distinguish between those prisoners who should be prosecuted for their crimes, those who can’t be prosecuted but who can be held in a manner consistent with the laws of war, and those who should be released or transferred to their home countries. (source– PDF)

That’s the campaign trail rhetoric from Candidate Obama. I liked the stance of Candidate Obama on this issue, it’s a shame that President Obama sees things so differently.

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The Hellhound and HeLa: Recent American Historical Writing At Its Best

February 1, 2011 | By | Reply More
The Hellhound and HeLa: Recent American Historical Writing At Its Best

The last really good history I read was “Hellhound On His Trail, ” which follows James Earl Ray’s path from his childhood in Alton, Illinois through a violent intersection with the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and continues to follow Ray’s trajectory with his quizzical recantations of his “life’s purpose.” With the same cool hand, Sides sketches the strengths and inadequacies of Dr. King’s inner circle and paints larger atmospheric strokes with newspaper headlines on the increasing violence in response to desegregation and the influence of war in Vietnam on national sentiment about federal involvement in heretofore state affairs.

By themselves, vignettes about Ray’s lackluster career as a petty criminal, his stunted attempts at artistic grandeur and addiction to prostitutes would simply depress the reader. Here, the intentional failures and manipulations of Hoover’s FBI and first-hand accounts of Ray’s behavior appear like birds descending on a tragic town, flickering across the broader canvas creating momentum and dread. Awful as the true subject of this thriller may be, I found myself disappointed to reach the end.

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A prisoner’s inside view of Guantanamo

January 21, 2011 | By | Reply More
A prisoner’s inside view of Guantanamo

You don’t see many of these Guantanamo exit interviews in the American media. This particular story about a man named Saad Iqbal Madni was published by a website called The World Can’t Wait. The way he was treated by American officials is despicable.

We desperately need to make sure that the story of American torture at Guantanamo, and elsewhere is fully told, and that it never happens again. If you are a United States Citizen, this activity was done in your name.

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What American justice looks like to outsiders

January 11, 2011 | By | Reply More
What American justice looks like to outsiders

Glenn Greenwald recently wrote about the efforts of Julian Assange to fight extradition to Sweden, including the following paragraph:

And now we have the spectacle of Julian Assange’s lawyers citing the Obama administration’s policies of rendition and indefinite detention at Guantanamo as a reason why human rights treaties bar his extradition to any country (such as Sweden) which might transfer him to American custody. Indeed, almost every person with whom I’ve spoken who has or had anything to do with WikiLeaks expresses one fear above all others: the possibility that they will end up in American custody and subjected to its lawless War on Terror “justice system.” Americans still like to think of themselves as “leaders of the free world,” but in the eyes of many, it’s exactly the “free world” to which American policies are so antithetical and threatening.

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