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Member since: Fri Nov 19, 2004, 09:10 PM
Number of posts: 16,330

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Our Criminal Justice System Still Embraces an Eye For an Eye

The United States currently houses well over two million prisoners, the highest per capita rate on the planet. This number is apparently not of interest to much of the remaining citizenry. With tales of prison violence, false convictions, high recidivism rates, politically driven judges and more, isn't it time to take a good hard look at the concept of justice?

Incarceration is valued by Americans and most civilizations in human history for two primary reasons: criminal offenders can be removed from society to prevent them from further misconduct, and a sense of vindication can be gained by crime victims and communities. A vote for "corrections" doesn't count; it is simply a falsehood to believe time behind bars yields better, brighter, more productive citizens in any appreciable way.

On that first one - protection of society, this can certainly be a valid judgment when the crime involves physical harm to others or the threat thereof. And it turns out that very roughly half of US inmates have been incarcerated for violent offenses.

A large ramp up of the prison population occurred and continues to with the vaunted War on Drugs. This so-called war was drummed up with all the righteous anger and determination as nearly every war pursued by the US; with all of the failure and disastrous consequences that so commonly follow. Despite this, any calls to re-examine the policy conjures up "embracing the criminal" talking points among representatives of both major political parties.

What we are left with is a system which operates under the premise that vengeance equals justice, a belief which has held true for millenia. Victims or their family members often (not always) express relief when an offender is given a long sentence or the death penalty. "Justice is served" is understood by all to mean in a punitive manner.

But shouldn't true justice in an advanced, civilized culture offer better choices than the destruction of a life for the satisfaction of revenge? Doesn't the concept of lengthy incarceration and death penalties carry with it the inherent acceptance of vengeance as a desirable human trait? I have to believe that there is a better path.

Are you an independent contractor, or a full-time employee?

Along with outsourcing, offshoring, and "right-sizing", contracting has become more popular with American business as a cost savings measure. A company can not only avoid paying their share of FICA taxes but skip on the unemployment compensation when a job has been completed. That's not to say there aren't legitimate circumstances when an independent contractor fits the bill, but the system has been abused, predictably.

I spent much of 2014 working for a tech startup company as a "1099 employee", or independent contractor. This, despite having no contract in place. What this means is that you are responsible for paying the full amount due for Social Security and Medicare expenses, including the half that would normally be covered by your employer. You also must make quarterly income tax payments rather than having them due by April of the following year.

Workers who should qualify as full-timers will often find themselves with a 1099-MISC form at the end of the year instead of a W2. But that doesn't mean you are necessarily stuck with that designation. There are tests that the IRS uses to determine how you should be classified, including:

1) Do you receive work assignments directly from the boss, or are you given a project to complete? Note - this one applies even if it is understood that they have the right to issue instructions, whether they actually do or not.

2) Who supplies the tools, workspace and supplies for you to execute the task?

3) Are you expected to work regular hours or can you perform the job on your own time as needed?

4) Are you free to work for other clients or is your time expected to be fully devoted to one employer?

5) Are you paid an hourly wage?

The IRS has a 20 point questionnaire with further tests to determine your status as described here:

If you feel you have been unfairly classified as a contractor rather than a full time employee, you can submit a form SS-8, "Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding". The IRS will mail a copy to the employer for them to make their case before making a determination. That won't happen overnight, particularly this year with an understaffed IRS.

Yes, you are very likely going to damage your relationship with the outfit that gave you the work. But this is just another means for employers to profit at the expense of the people who do the work that earns their profits.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

If you have ever attempted to learn computer programming, you've probably seen a common example used by authors to demonstrate the misconstruction of a 'loop': a type of routine that executes a task repeatedly until a certain condition is met; say, adding 1 to a variable until it equals ten. Failing to test for that condition means the condition is never detected and the loop continues without end, locking up your program. "Lather, rinse, repeat? When do I stop?"

War crimes. Wall Street crimes. NSA crimes. Police crimes. Each has produced howls of various pitch and volume upon discovery, with occasional murmuring reverbs in the months and years to follow. But this nation and this culture exhibit a predictable and peculiar pattern when it comes to dealing with outrageous new discoveries -- we give the topic a vigorous aerobic exercising in social media, talk shows, blogs, and the back fence; and then we consign it to oblivion and wait for another day and a new catastrophe. The Rude One gets in a ruthless shot to the kidney (or 12), Chomsky and Hedges summarize for us just how royally fucked we are, again, and Morning Joe and crew spew their nonsense about the Lazy Takers responsible for it all.

And except for the faithful who have continued to show up to protest in each case, the outrage du jour is soon dropped off on a dark country road and left behind to starve. Our carefully cultivated appetite for 72 hour news cycles certainly helps in steering the car to the gravel shoulder.

The war criminals have not only never been charged, they are sought after for expert commentary without regard to the nightmarish human costs of their murderous past. They express disdain for the current Executive's failure to enjoy the taste of blood with the same epicurean zeal as they do.

The Wall Street mafiosos have enjoyed record-setting bonuses without the cumbersomeness of the 8x10 cells that they should be occupying, and have highly paid lobbyists striving to rewrite and weaken regulatory measures enacted after the collapse of 2008.

The NSA received a public spanking by some but not all of the media after Eric Snowden's revelations. Anyone believing that they have been properly chastened and have found Jesus and resolved not to eavesdrop on their girlfriends and yours, please leave your Samsung Galaxy on at all times.

Cops have been shown to be not so much into the "Protect and Serve" thing and more likely to simply shout "Pull!" than "pull over!". And to receive high-fives all round from fellow officers and the courts.

And on, and on, and on.

The list of outrages is long and deep and will continue to grow, but whether the nation has simply been deadened to injury, inured of change against long odds or is just ignorant, there is no reason to believe that an upset of the apple cart is impending. It's time to put torture on the exercise bike for its mandatory three days and then to go back to the forgetful blissful ignorance of believing the CIA exists to protect your American ass.

The condition that society should be testing for in our subroutine of citizenship is simple: when is enough, enough? But we have either developed a complete inability to detect that condition or are no longer even trying.

So, it's Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Bush v. Gore, Shock and Awe, Katrina, Citizens United, Ferguson,

The list of outrages is endless and maddening.

Zimmerman, torture, Too Big to Jail, war without end, NSA spying on American citizens, corporate media, crumbling bridges, two and a half million bodies in prison (a hugely disproportionate number of them black), the revolving door from Congress to Wall Street, an entire political party in desperate need of mental health treatment and an "opposing" party which doesn't, mostly.

Militarized police who can and do batter and execute people with impunity, and a justice system which increasingly responds like that of an old Soviet satellite.

Corruption layered a mile deep on top of insatiable greed and a complete lack of, nay laughing rejection of empathy for the less fortunate. Get a job. Pull your pants up.

The vacuuming of the Middle Class's wealth into the black hole occupied by the .01 Percent.

Katrina was for me though, the last straw that convinced me the republic is clinically dead. Collapsing infrastructure despite warnings that levees were in desperate need of repair. Politicians who unfailingly congratulated their fellow politicians, refused to blame anyone, or cruised above it all with dispassionate gazes while throwing in a "heckuva job, Brownie" for Brownie's disastrous job. While Momma didn't let it bother her beautiful mind. And this horrific catastrophe has receded as far from visibility and importance for the nation as the dark side of Comet 67P.

I no longer hold hope that an electoral system of lesser evils can or will correct the corruption and malfeasance of the last 30 to 50 years, depending on your historical perspective. I believe that nothing short of a complete shutdown of consumption for an extended period of time will hit The-Powers-That-Be where it hurts and maybe, maybe effect some actual change. Unfortunately, that's something the day's Black Friday videos assure us is absolutely never going to happen.

Folks, it's OK if you love Apple. But don't grant them immunity from PR review

The media has been positively gushing with excitement over the release of the latest iPhone. You would think it included levitation and time travel capabilities along with, you know - voice, text, and a really nifty camera.

They have enjoyed the embrace of Progressives for a long time, presumably because they aren't the ogreish MicroSoft and are the platform of choice for creative professionals who as we all know, are almost entirely Progressive.

Their latest claim has been embraced as proof that they're fightin' The Man and keeping their customers safe from the prying eye of the law and the lawless (the NSA): Apple says iOS 8 will shield your data from police.

Except it won't. And they know it. This is not the claim of some heretofore unknown hacker wannabe. It's straight from Jonathan Zdziarski, possibly the world's foremost expert on iOS security and the author of iOS forensics manuals for police use.

But as the media and privacy activists congratulated Apple on that new resistance to government snooping, iOS forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski offered a word of caution for the millions of users clamoring to pre-order the iPhone 6 and upgrade to iOS 8. In many cases, he points out, the cops can still grab and offload sensitive data from your locked iPhone without Apple’s help, even in iOS 8. All they need, he says, is your powered-on phone and access to a computer you’ve previously used to move data onto and off of it.

“I am quite impressed, Mr. Cook! That took courage,” Zdziarski wrote in a blog post. “But it does not mean that your data is beyond law enforcement’s reach.”

Just after Apple’s announcement, Zdziarski confirmed with his own forensics software that he was still able to pull from a device running iOS 8 practically all of its third-party application data—that means sensitive content from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, web browsers, and more—as well as photos and video. The attack he used impersonates a trusted computer to which a user has previously connected the phone; it takes advantage of the same mechanisms that allow users to siphon data off a device with programs like iTunes and iPhoto without entering the gadget’s passcode.


I am not saying that liking and advocating for Apple is a bad thing, but it's important to understand they are a corporation. Not all of their words and actions are without underlying factors which may not be in the best interests of the buying public.

That's all.

I've about come to the conclusion that debate has lost its power

What I mean is that believing the use of intelligent argument to effect a change in thinking by one's enemies or detractors has quite simply become a quaint notion.

While there may have been a time when arguments were more than the piñata parties of ad hominem they are now, it seems our political culture and society no longer support such a concept. Very few online or off have had a come-to-Jesus moment as a result of the sudden grasp of a new truth unveiled in the midst of heated discussion. What generally happens is that trenches are dug deeper, voices become louder, insults are offered instead of insights and minds are hardened rather than cultivated.

Although it can be satisfying to engage in argument if for no other reason than to clothe yourself with a "I'm not with Stupid" virtual T-shirt; Stupid is, unfortunately, pretty damn proud of his peanut-brained world view and not inclined to ponder the value of rationality.

Feel free to disagree, but remember - your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!

If it Walks Like a Paramilitary Duck

Odds are better than naught that it's one of the new breed of American combat cops. And unless you're Cliff from "Cheers" and begin most of your sentences with the word "actually", we have effectively become a police state.

Actually, IDemo, just the fact that you are able to post your terr'istic thoughts on the Internet means you're wrong. People aren't being rousted in the dead of night and hauled away in Black Marias for a night of torture and a trip to the concentration camp. Journalists who haven't shown deference to the regime aren't being poisoned. Politicians haven't faced a sudden unexpected end when they become less than agreeable to the gameplan of the Plutocrats. Well, let's scratch that last one for now.

Actually, binary thinking. Black and white versus degrees of difference: "A degree or amount by which things differ." When that degree or amount amounts to disagreement over the shading of the big picture rather than an unfiltered look directly at the subject, the dialog reaches a stasis. The subject at hand is a duck with a gas mask, wearing desert camo and carrying an automatic rifle and a boiling rage. And he didn't have to walk like a duck to get here. He arrived in a heavily armored vehicle straight from the last place it didn't belong either -- in an illegal undeclared war. All on your dime, of course.

We are by no means at the same place as Stalin's Russia. Citizens don't live in fear of being assigned a bed in a 'mental hospital' for incurring the displeasure of the local Party chief. But the term "Police State" has become applicable to the state of affairs we've arrived at. Virtually all of your communications minus your singing in the shower are open for intercept by the NSA/CIA/FBI/DoD. And pull the battery on the SmartPhone if you want to be sure about your shower exception. Your FaceBooking and Googling, along with all of your other adventures on the tubes; your library book choices, your email, all are potential targets for a surveillance system on steroids. Because terra.

Publicly protesting, even if peacefully, will more often than not gain you a face-off with a group who appear to have just parachuted in to your encampment with intents of taking out Osama. And who appear perfectly equipped, ready, willing and anxious to make you their bin Laden du jour.

It is time to remove the blinders and recognize that this nation's police have in many places morphed into a standing army, regardless of whether they are federal enlistees or report to the Pentagon. And that army has defined the citizenry it ostensibly protects as the defacto enemy: suspected of terrorism until proven otherwise. "Resisting" by existing. Free speech in a zone, maybe, but just STFU preferably. You may videotape your cats, but not your cops. Piss one off even if just by being in his space on a bad day, and pay the price -- tear gas, clubbing, false arrest, gunfire in a shockingly increasing number of cases, and an absolution for the thug(s) by our judicial system more often than not.

It is time to recognize that this has no good end, and will potentially be the spark that finally brings about the uprising that grand theft oligarchy and a world of warhawks have failed to.

Torture Existentialism

So DU hosts still another soccer riot, this time based on what your definition of "is" is. Or rather, what your valuation of "reason" is, as in reasons for engaging in criminal acts such as torture. Whether one is just following orders, is possessed by fear for her country, believes actionable testimony can be gained, loathes dark-skinned people, or simply enjoys making others scream, we can enter the discussion at least knowing these acts were not perpetrated by zombies.

There were reasons, you see.

They had purpose, dammit! Purposes be damned, but their brains had at least fashioned the crude clay form of justification for their sickening acts, and act they did. They may not have taken the long view, which might have resulted in understanding the criminality, the uselessness, the human costs associated with torture. We may not condone or understand why they did what they did, but at least we can't say they acted impulsively.

But reasons exist for everything within human experience and comprehension, from natural phenomena to politics. It is ludicrous to distill a set of reasons into an abstract entity which stands as its own palliative, regardless of the underlying facts. But that is what suggesting that we must acknowledge the back story of the torturer, unsanctimoniously, before daring to criticize, does. To offer such outrageous absurdity with seriousness is to embark on a road we do not want to travel.

I'm afraid we're already on milepost 11,000 of that road, unfortunately.

Never mind that humans have suffered frightening and painful deaths.

It now seems like a secondary concern when measured against realpolitik, which is the acceptable way of saying "so sad that you and yours died (or will, God willing), but we did what was needed to protect our power and wealth. You understand.

Never mind that each plane downing, purposeful or not, each bombing or missile attack regardless of whose insignia is on the munitions, represents the sudden horrifying end of someone who shares vastly more with us on the human scale than their politics or religion differentiates. Yet, much of humanity seems not only to accept this state of affairs but to enthusiastically embrace it. To picnic at the specter of battle, to hand clap and fist pump at the first news of Shock n' Awe Again. And to argue that the Tree of Liberty requires an occasional watering with blood of The Others, be they other nations, religions, ethnicities or political ideologies.

Now, empathy is a concept which has been roundly criticized by some in American politics (you know who you are). But arguing against identifying with another's human condition isn't enough. There is a culture of enmity which serves to vilify any with a perceived Outsiderliness or Otherliness and to justify their mistreatment, whether they are children at the border or villagers half a globe away. And to justify and excuse death-by-bomb with lies if necessary. Not just Joe Shmoe at the bar but the Very Serious People in Suits who populate radio and television talk shows. Folks who should be presenting facts and the careful consideration of their consequences but who twist tragedy into a How to Win Friends and Influence Politicians episode.

Forgive me, but it seems at times, more often lately, that the very word 'history' is too kind and should simply be replaced with 'CSI - Homo Sapiens'.

Have you heard the latest disturbing meme from the Right?

Of course you have. Again and again.

Folks, listen, the howling idiocy never lets up, even for a single day. The Bryan Fischers, Pat Robertsons, Ann Coulters, Tea Partiers, Dominionists, Libertines, militias. Now, it's fun to chuckle and forehead slap over the latest outrage from this crew, but isn't it time to ask ourselves how damaging these nuts are in actuality or simply to just let it go?

I seriously don't believe that giving each utterance of Beck and company a dredging of reality in the DU Universe is going to bring to the Truth Jesus (the one NOT cradling a baby T-Rex!) those who cling to his every word. When you're as firmly footed in the Tribe of Malicious Right Wing Lunacy as they are, facts aren't going to be particularly convincing.

We are not going to convert them to the gift of sentient reasoning, much less to liberal ideals. Ain't gonna happen.

And if you require a daily dose of RW nuttiness from Raw Story to strengthen your liberal and/or Democratic Party principles, you aren't trying.

That is all.

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