Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Property Forfeiture, Cops, and the War on Drugs: More Than Just a Bust

When they pull you over, it's not your world anymore. It doesn't have to make sense.

A first-year law student would give me an argument concerning the above caption. Unfortunately, the 4th Amendment stops when a cop wants it to, especially if there are no witnesses. That puts us in a difficult position when we're pulled over. Law-student-guy would say, "But you have rights." Okay, fine.

(Requisite disclaimer: Of course there are good cops and bad cops. The laws discussed in this blog post just let a lot of cops be bad, IMO.)

The property forfeiture laws featured in the three-part story concluding today in the Washington Post are another deal altogether. Innocent until proven guilty is flipped on its head. If you've got a lot of cash, that cash can be considered evidence that you're up to no good. That fact that you're not doesn't give you the right to get your cash back.

That's just wrong. Arguments like "It's another tool in the toolbox to fight the war on drugs" drive me bananas. Randomly shooting people because "the dude looked like a drug courier" makes about as much sense. Sorry, here's your life back, oh, I guess I can't make that happen. Well, you shouldn't have been born black or looked like a biker or acted nervous because you had a lot of cash in the car. Having $17,000 in my pocket would make me insanely nervous.

(One time back in 1990 while living and working in Japan, I carried $33,000 in cash from one bank to another in a belly bag because it took ten days to get a cashier's check in Japan. I was a little wigged out, to say the least. And that's Japan where crime is low and it's generally a cash economy. Example: The cashiers where I asked for the cash and then later redeposited it took no notice of my actions at all. In America, I think I or they have to notify the Feds if such a transaction occurs.)

Many of those cited in the WaPo series did have their lives severely messed up by the "legal" seizures of their cash stash. And the idea that it's weird to be in a cash economy and thus it's their own damned fault, haven't they heard of banks and cashier's checks, and so on, is a specious argument. The government printed the damned money, and it's a crime that you even have it in your possession?

The seizure laws say yes, that's it. You got it, we think it's weird, we take it. It's legal. And we'll keep it as long as we can and cost you big time to get it back after your life's messed up. We'll even offer you half back as a common bargaining position. You didn't do anything wrong, we couldn't prove a damned thing, but we say "Okay, but we keep half. Deal?"

I've known about this for a long time, and I've stewed over it. But when you add it to the "cops can stop blacks and screw them over, even shoot them" scenarios that are evident everywhere -- except in my near-lily-white Sonoma County where my friends think "it's somebody else's problem, why are you so upset?" -- and add it to the Patriot Act and NSA "legal" snooping, and all the rest that you see so much nowadays, including "fine bankers for stealing your money but never send them to jail that's crazy," we should be all getting the sick feeling that justice is not just blind but dumb, as well.

I have a good life, and mostly my run-ins with the law have been reasonably benign ones, and I've known for a long time that carrying a lot of cash was a recipe for the kinds of disaster that befell the citizens in the WaPo series. Which, of course, begs the question: Where have these people been living without learning about these laws?

I think it's because these laws are too wacky. I get that having a bunch of cash does provide law enforcement with reasonable suspicion, which then can lead to searches and what not. But if the underlying crime suspected -- drugs, links to terrorists, etc. -- cannot be proven to the point of indictment, then keeping people's property is a crime itself. Even if one is indicted, one would need to be proven guilty. Found not guilty? Give the damned cash back!

And the series didn't focus on forfeited cars, trucks, trailers, etc.

We live in an increasingly lawless society. Actual crime is down. Law-enforcement crime appears to be up. Not good for a country will a Bill of Rights, don't you think?

JPMorganChase's Jamie Dimon: His firm steals billions, he gets a bonus. Law and order.

By the way, did I mention we lost the war on drugs anyway, big time? Right, I forgot. Bygones.

Update. Here's a link to Part Two, and one for Part Three.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Alt Energy Revolution: It's Here, People

Yes, and I've found a safer way to shoot heroin, Thank God!

We should wake up to the changes happening around us and embrace them. In the field of alternative energy, we've got a revolution, baby. It's the conventional clowns of conventional wisdom that serve conventional puppetmasters that want you to think differently. Go for the change, and try to be informed, supportive, and (cautiously) celebratory:
The New York Times brazenly claimed in 2012 that cellulosic ethanol, a type of fuel made from agricultural waste such as corn stalks, "does not exist" -- and many other news outlets also adopted this misleading framing. Industry journal Platts published a blog titled: "Puzzling over the US mandate for a fuel that doesn't exist yet," later clarifying that the fuel simply did not exist "in the US at commercial volumes" at the time. The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that "Congress subsidized a product that didn't exist" and "is punishing oil companies for not buying the product that doesn't exist." FoxNews.com called the fuel "merely hypothetical." National Review Online contributing editor Deroy Murdock stated "EPA might as well mandate that Exxon hire leprechauns."
However, since a new facility started producing cellulosic ethanol on a commercial-scale on September 3, these outlets have remained silent.* Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels opened the biggest cellulosic ethanol facility in the country for production, which will "convert 570 million pounds of crop waste into 25 million gallons of ethanol each year." The Iowa facility is being heralded as "a major step in the shift from the fossil fuel age to a biofuels revolution."
Support this, plan for this. I'm not the best example, but I bought a high-mileage diesel car in 2010 with an eye to switching to biodiesel when my warranty ends at 70k miles, maybe another two years. I expect the biodiesel industry to catch up in price and distribution by then. If it doesn't I expect to make my own somehow. I have acquaintances that want to participate.

I want my around-town car (two-person household) to be electric eventually. I'm hoping Elon Musk's megabattery factory has plans for creating a standardized battery that we just swap out at battery stations. Works for me, but guys like Elon Musk think outside the American Petroleum Institute box. We all should and embrace the future.

American Petroleum Institute spokesmodel Brooke Anderson says "Find
out more." But do they really want you to? Not about alternative energy.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

How Can Someone So Wrong Be UC Berkeley's Chancellor?

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks opens his trap, and Mario Savio rolls in his
grave. But it is protected speech because Dirks says it so nice.

We've seen this kind of nonsense before, but it's easy to miss its implications. Thank goodness Atrios flags it and Ken White lays it down.

In short, UC Berkeley Nicholas Dirks uses the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement to issue an email to Berkeley faculty, staff, and students, in which he attempts to place bogus limits on free speech, claiming to favor civility, balance, and responsibility, and in the process shows the he is either ignorant, willfully obtuse, or dangerously malevolent in his desire to psyche out the Berkeley community into creating a false set of limitations on free speech. Knowing the history of UC Berkeley, I can only wish the chancellor good luck with that.

He's not the first chancellor at a UC campus to rightfully incur the wrath of a skeptical population. But thanks to Atrios and most especially Ken White for his spot-on deconstruction of Dirks' wretched statement, this latest one might get the dose of disrespect he so obviously craves. Here's to hopes of "Fuck You, Dirks" T-sheets populating the Berkeley campus, especially in Sproul Hall and Plaza. Up yours, Chancellor.

I'm so uncivil. This is how civil the cops are with non-violent civil disobedience in the UC system (these are UC Davis police):

The pepper-spraying cop, Lt. John Pike, was eventually removed from his job after eight months of paid administrative leave. He later sued UC for pain and suffering and was awarded $38,000 and his pension credits for his time at UC Davis.

The violent reaction to UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi later that day:

The Chancellor remains in her position today.

By the way, these champions of free speech make upwards of a half a million dollars a year, including salaries and benefits that include chauffeured cars and free mansions. They make more than double the salary for governors of California and its U.S. senators.

Note. I'll answer my question of why such people run our top institutions. It's because what they do and say appear so reasonable, especially to the Very Serious People of our era. Why, Nicholas Dirks sounds just like David Brooks, who has more than mastered the art of sounding reasonable while being mind-numbingly wrong. I'd love to see Ken White deconstruct one of Brooks' overly moralistic tomes. OMG, his blog partner, oddly named Patrick Non-White, has done so (read the linked article). It's good to find a fellow human who reacts to Brooksian rational non-sense in very much the same way I do.

When Pundits Don't Know What the Hell They're Talking About, Foreign Policy Edition

We don't need your snark, Mo.
We've got John McCain for that.
This time it's Mo. She's soon to depart the NYTimes op-ed pages for hopefully more obscure digs at NYTimes Magazine, and for me, Miz Irrelevant can't depart too soon. I used to like her snark, to be honest, but after one hundred too many diatribes against Hillary because fucking nothing except who knows, I couldn't click on her pieces anymore. I did today, and what do I get?

I get Maureen Dowd using scenes from the TV show Homeland to make the point that the Bomb Now!!!! crowd is preferable to the let's-make-a-plan-get-some-allies-and-then-act malarkey.

I don't want to spend time figuring out the way to select a graph or two to quote, so just go and read her work, being careful to scan through the comments on the piece. Here's one that gets to the nub:
list of people i don't want to see panic: my surgeon, pilot, lawyer, and president.
Dowd doesn't demand panic but prefers it to thoughtfulness. Another on-point comment:
Yes, he’s putting entirely too much time into formulating a strategy and a plan. We know he’s building an international coalition (actually two, if you count the reawakening of NATO). We’ve heard that he’s also pursuing war crimes justification against ISIS. And we all know that, in lieu of baring his teeth, he has launched numerous air strikes with several solid, satisfying successes.

Has he demagogued the situation? No, not enough, apparently. There’s a certain satisfaction to watching your national leaders attempting to whip your fellow countrymen into blind, homicidal frenzy -- but that’s what Fox News is for, isn’t it? And perhaps, after 2002-2003, we feel entitled to the solemnity of heavy-handed wartime speeches with “facts” plucked from the air along with entire justificatory architectures. Alas, he’s given us none of that, either. Not even a single jumpsuit victory aboard an aircraft carrier docked within shouting distance of downtown San Diego.

He simply doesn’t entertain. He’s so … serious … about these things. Such a disappointing leader.
Frum's got my back? Wise man, that Frum.
Find your favorites. And read a leading conservative voice, David Frum, to realize that we don't need the rabid dogs -- or rabid ferrets, as Gail Collins called them -- like John McCain and Lindsey Graham demanding blood now now now. There are reasonable voices on both sides of the issue. Thank god one of them is Barack Obama's.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Who's the Worst Man in the World? For His 15 Minutes, It's Bob McDonnell.

Look at these checks! Corruption's cool, isn't it?

I count on Dahlia Lithwick to find the sweet -- or sour -- spot in a legal exercise. She nails it with the Bob McDonnell case:
We may never fully know what led a Virginia jury to find former Gov. Bob McDonnell guilty on 11 counts of federal corruption and his wife, Maureen, guilty of nine counts. The federal investigation, indictment, and trial at first seemed something of an overreach, and right to the end, it seemed like the case might have been difficult to prove to a jury. After the trial ended in such a brisk and crushing verdict, it now seems easy to say the result was inevitable. If it was never perfectly clear that the prosecutors found the quid to the pro quo, well, in the end it didn’t matter. After weeks of trial, the jury seemed to want nothing more than to loofah off the filth and go home.


It’s easy to say that everyone in power is bought and that the McDonnells simply got caught getting bought. But that doesn’t quite capture the horror of what happened here in the commonwealth in the past month. Whatever shame they brought on the office of governor by their dealings with Williams was overshadowed by the shame of their legal strategy. The jurors must have felt unimaginably filthy listening to gruesome tales of a “nutbag” first lady, rebuffed letters from the governor trying to resolve marital spats, and tween-grade text messages to a man Maureen McDonnell was allegedly “obsessed with.” That the former governor knew his career was making his wife wretched and drove on nonetheless is one thing. That he blamed her wretchedness for wrecking his career borders on felony chutzpah.

Maybe the defense strategy that the McDonnells could never have colluded because they didn’t speak was the only defense they had. But that’s their own fault. Prosecutors had offered the former governor a deal that would have had him plead guilty to a single count of fraud and would have spared his wife. The defense on display this month wasn’t the best bad option. It was the worst bad option. And it clearly wasn’t convincing. As Amy Davidson notes, you can be in a miserable marriage and still collude to take cash in exchange for pushing dietary supplements.

As the jurors begin to talk, we may begin to get some insight into why they came down so hard on the former first couple. But one possibility is that you just can’t explain lies with lies. And the McDonnell strategy always seemed to be just that: “We couldn’t have been lying to you about our finances, Virginia, because we were too busy lying to you about everything else. We lied about our marriage for years. We lied about our values and our integrity. We lied about our political and economic convictions. We lied about the centrality of family and marriage to our vision of governance.” In the end, when the jurors were asked to believe one more lie—that the McDonnells’ whole life was an “act” (a lie that may or may not now come true, if the McDonnells’ marriage fails to survive this spectacle) to explain the other lies—it may have been too much to sanction.
We may never know the real shape of the McDonnell marriage, but it hardly matters. What we do know is that whatever Bob McDonnell holds sacred among his core religious beliefs -- he says he places his trust in the Lord -- fidelity, to a spouse or to Virginians, isn't one of them. We don't want to thrust him into the dustbin of history immediately. We'd first like to decorate at least one of its sides with a true picture of his villainy. Then seriously forget the fucker.

The McDonnells during happier times.

Ferguson: Is It Actually About White Rage?

Blacks pissed? Yes, but whites have been pissed since the Civil War. They're
just more pissed because Obama. How dare a black man get over on us??

Yes, white rage is the driving factor -- or reaction -- in many famous so-called civil rights "game-changers." Does it continue to this very minute? You betcha:
When we look back on what happened in Ferguson, Mo., during the summer of 2014, it will be easy to think of it as yet one more episode of black rage ignited by yet another police killing of an unarmed African American male. But that has it precisely backward. What we’ve actually seen is the latest outbreak of white rage. Sure, it is cloaked in the niceties of law and order, but it is rage nonetheless.
Protests and looting naturally capture attention. But the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are actually driven by the most ignoble motivations.
White rage recurs in American history. It exploded after the Civil War, erupted again to undermine the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision and took on its latest incarnation with Barack Obama’s ascent to the White House. For every action of African American advancement, there’s a reaction, a backlash.
This viewpoint is so counter-intuitive, and yet it rings so true once you embrace it. If you look back over history -- Central High, the Watts Riots, the Rodney King riots, now the Ferguson protests (it was more of a police riot), and don't forget busing in Boston and housing desegregation in Chicago -- blacks have periodically erupted, but whites have seethed non-stop from the Emancipation Proclamation until today. Obama Derangement Syndrome is only the latest iteration.

Will is stop someday? Sure, just as the Sun will someday cool down and extinguish itself. Not-in-my-lifetime is surely a tad too short to express how whites as a whole feel about losing it to the browns and blacks. What will make white rage last until almost the end of days? Because it ain't rational. There are probably a number of white Christians that believe the blacks will bring on the end of days because God will finally get fed up with them.

You think it's rational? How about this? The blue represents the six months after Obama's election:

It's the same for ammo:
Weapons dealers in much of the United States are reporting sharply higher sales since Barack Obama won the presidency a week ago.
Buyers and sellers attribute the surge to worries that Obama and a Democratic-controlled Congress will move to restrict firearm ownership, despite the insistence of campaign aides that the president-elect supports gun rights and considers the issue a low priority.
Are there any irrational voices out there about ammo and Obama? You betcha:
An international firearms dealer said the White House is blocking ammunition sales to American citizens as federal agencies continue to stockpile.
“There are elements in the United States government moving to obstruct commercial ammunition sales,” said Anthony MelĂ©, an international firearms dealer and owner of AMI Global Security, LLC.  AGS is a defense trade and manufacturer’s exporter registered with the U.S. Department of Defense and the United Nations.
Today's thought experiment: How much of this is blacks running out the day Obama was elected president and buying up all the guns and ammunition? How much of it is whites running out and buying up guns and ammunition right after Obama's election?

If you hit on the idea that it's whites, you'd be correct. If you thought it was rural/suburban, Republican white men in the Midwest and South, you'd be correcter:

Okay, some of you see what I did there. Since Obama was elected, we've had a steady surge in gun ownership, which is predominantly driven by white, rural, Republican men. I wasn't suggesting that whites want to shoot black men (might only be white cops...). Actually, what I did there was posit that white rage and white gun ownership run hand-in-hand. Tell me where I'm wrong.

Ferguson was all about black rage? Please identify that in this picture.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Yes, Virginia, This Is Why 30% of Americans Don't Know Their Economic Asses from a Hole in the Ground.

A really good graph can tell a whole story anybody could understand:

This is a story of how income inequality expands at the expense of somebody, in this case the middle class. This isn't an accident but the result of policies and practices of a democratic nation. We can do better. So far we have not chosen to do so. For the whole story as told by Jared Bernstein, read this.

Today's thought experiment: Imagine how Fox News would handle this. Pick anyone, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, The Five, Geraldo, Stuart Varney.

Next, consider how this "Faux Effect" might influence that portion of the electorate who would look at this graph and blame immigrants or creeping socialism or [insert favorite boggy man here].

Stuart Varney has found his favorite boggy man:

Yes, stick to matters of faith and morals, Pope Francis. Capitalism runs best when unhindered by morality.