Monday, August 31, 2009


Simon Johnson and James Kwaak have a great article at Democracy Journal. Choice quotes:

...The presumption should be that innovation in financial products is costly—it increases transaction costs, the cost of effective oversight, and the risk of unanticipated consequences—and should have to justify itself against those costs.


Though it is not often thought about in these terms, reforming health insurance—to make it universally accessible and stable in its premiums—would be another financial innovation that would accrue both social and economic benefits. Because individual households’ economic fortunes are volatile, insurance is one of their core financial needs. It is generally possible to buy adequate auto, home, and life insurance, but for most people true long-term health insurance is simply not available. While a majority of Americans get health insurance through their jobs, many would be unable to remain insured should they become unemployed. What they have is subsidized health care during their term of employment; they don’t have true insurance. While there are several ways to do it, making individual health care policies available to everyone (and not subject to an accident of fate like a layoff or divorce) would allow consumers to better plan their economic lives. There could be no better embodiment of positive financial innovation.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pilgrim Pride

If you've been paying attention at all, you've probably already seen this. And since it's probably been covered a few times already, I thought I'd transcribe it and then give it the FJM treatment. The star of tonight's show is Mr. Bert Stead. The nervous Congressman is Republican Representative Wally Herger.

So here's Bert, addressing Congressman Wally:

Wally, my family came over here...

I like the way he starts off, referring to his family. Republicans are all about family, and Americans are all about welcoming desperate people from foreign countries. Look, it says it right there on the Statue of Liberty.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

I wonder where his parents came from? From which war-torn, destitute, or tempest-tossed country did they make their escape, hoping to find solace, liberty and a steady supply of male purses?

-one side of my family-

Oh. Well, still, we welcome you with open arms, sir.

...on the Mayflower.

Ah yes, the good old Mayfl-What? That was like 389 years ago. Your family? By what reasonable definition do you describe people who came over here on a boat from England almost 400 years ago as your "family"? I'm going to let you continue, Mr. Stead, but you should know that I'm listening now, and I'd really like an answer to that question.

Oh, you mean white people. Never mind.

The first winter was rough, but they didn't have their hands out looking for someone to support them.

Judging from the self-reliant attitude and comic-bookstore sartorial taste of Mr. Stead, that doesn't sound like something his forefathers would do. I did a little research, in fact, and found that, other than stealing land and corn from the natives in that first winter, the only other Pilgrimish peccadillo was a little grave-robbing. But generally, they lived up to the principles that Bertie upholds. After all, they're family.

We built this country on people... (pause, applause)

Yes, literally- on people. On their backs. On the backs of slaves. It's called self-reliance, folks. Live it. Learn it. It's as American as torture, the Japanese internment, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The reason this country is so great is because we stand up and we earn what we are entitled to.

I'm glad that you can stand, Bert. Very Pilgrimmy of you. I have always heard that those Pilgrims were good standers. Of course, there are those that cannot stand, like President Roosevelt, but he probably didn't earn what he was entitled to either. In fact, the things that he was entitled to are probably still out there, and if you watch as much late night TV as Mr. Stead does, you'll probably see an advertisement explaining how FDR can collect this government money. And not only could FDR not stand, but he was a government employee to boot, and that worthless combination of circumstance leaves no doubt that Mr. Stead has done far more to make this country great. By standing up, and so forth.

I have been known to say things fishy....

Hey, hey, hey! Hold on. Criticizing you is my job. Leave that to the professionals. I assure you that I can get this done. If you don't think think I've properly eviscerated you by the end of this post, feel free to meet me out back after the show. We can maybe have some tea. You did bring your bags, did you not? I assume that they are in your purse.

I have been known to even to attend a protest....

Ah. You do enjoy tea! Excellent! I myself have not been known to attend any of these protests, and so I went to their web site to learn more. The current outrage there was over the Shasta Board of Supervisors' proposed recognition of the Islamic community's contributions to American life. Mr. Stead, being a principled man, no doubt opposes this government recognition of religion, and, while I disagree with the notion that government should act as though religion does not exist, I commend him on his principled stand.

Actually, that's all bullshit. As it turns out, the only religion they think government should recognize is Christianity. He just doesn't like Muslims.

But I can understand that view. After all, all Muslims are terrorists right? There is nothing worse than a terrorist. And you know what we do with terrorists, or at least people who might be terrorists. Or look like one.

and i want to say that i'm a proud right wing terrorist.


Get him! Where is the CIA when you need them! He's probably got a bomb in that fanny pack! I can't believe you said that, Bert. You have no idea how lucky you are that Congressman Herger is on camera, because Wally Herger would kick your ass if he wasn't. When this meeting is over, you'd better high-tail it out of here, because that is one righteous right-wing representative right there, and he's liable to go all second amendment on you.

I didn't come prepared with a lot of notes tonight....

I presume that if you had, you would have realized that calling yourself a terrorist is not the smartest thing to do, and would have omitted that confession. Now you'll have Herger all over your ass. That's some heavy shit, dude.

I left them actually at home while i was looking for ...while i was looking for my birth certificate...

Nicely done, sir! While the setup to this joke was painful, awkward and, some might say, tortuous, the payoff was simply sublime! Birth certificate, you say? Hilarious! Your talk of notes confused us, since we did not believe that you could read or write, and then you took advantage of us with a clever and witty mocking of those paranoid and delusional members of the public who are convinced, in the face of all evidence, that Obama's birth certificate is a fake. These people are so loony that they believe that the fact that the president is ignoring them is proof that they are right. I applaud your joke, Mr. Stead, and the clever way you sarcastically dismissed these wingnuts and their- I'm sorry, can you hold, Mr. Stead? I'm getting word from the guerillapost headquarters down on Alpine and Birch. What's that? Oh. I see. I guess the joke's on me.

Sorry, Bert. I just realized that you are, in fact, one of those morons. My sincerest apologies.

The last...the last thing that i'd like to say is, please Wally, your job does not end when you say no to this on the ballot, on the vote.

Thank you for clearing this up, Bert. I can only speak for myself, but I can assure you that I was very concerned that Mr. Herger will think that his term is over after he votes.

your job has ended there.

Wait, you just said....What?

but it begins when you go back to washington and you tell the self-appointed king, and all the king's men...

Now Bert, I don't mean to sound stupid, but I didn't know we had a king. That's terrible! It's not American! You should lodge a complaint. I think that you should write a letter to the president, and demand that he investigate this king business. He'll listen. You might have heard of him. Barack Obama? Elected in a democratic election last year? Highest number of votes in American history? Second-highest percentage? Anyway, he's president, and I bet he'd be interested in investigating this king thing, whoever he is. With your help, of course.

Just try to keep that terrorist bit to yourself. Our government isn't too fond of terrorists, you see.

we are fed up...we don't want government in our face anymore.

Bert, I don't think government is listening when you say that. In fact, government is still standing there, right in front of your face, holding a microphone and wearing a white shirt, charcoal slacks and a shit-eating grin. And he is clearly not hearing you when you say that.

we don't want government-run car companies, we don't want government-run businesses, we can do that all by ourselves.

Yes, we can!

Just look at the bang-up job we did with GM, Chrysler and AIG! These companies were kicking some serious ass before government stepped in and ruined them. They were the envy of the free world! Did you know that the entire factory production line at GM was staffed by Pilgrims? They got them right off the Mayflower! They BUILT this country, damn it! AIG actually stands for American Indian Graves; Bert's family robbed those graves for the venture capital! They were only $185 billion in debt when the government started interfering.

Thank you, Wally.

No, Bert, thank you! Thank you for this illuminating insight into the mind of a modern moron. Now if I were you, I'd pack up that fanny pack and skedaddle, because I have a feeling Wally isn't going to like being lectured to by a terrorist. In fact, he's got the mic and he's about to lay into you something fierce. Let's listen...


Amen, God bless you,,there's a great American, isn't it?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mexico Finally Sees the Light

Mexico has decided to stop arresting people for small amounts of drugs.

It will be interesting to see the reaction of the Obama administration. The United States has, for years, applied pressure on other countries to keep this sort of thing from happening. In the countries where decriminalization has been tried, like Portugal, the results have been a success.

Every day it becomes more and more difficult to defend a war on our own citizens for using drugs. There are two arguments for this war. The first is that drugs are morally wrong; those who believe in this argument will continue to believe in it, closing their minds as they consume alcohol, nicotine and anything else the drug companies can sell them.

But the other argument is a pragmatic one. It is that if we legalize drugs, there will be an enormous increase in abuse, and society will collapse as a result. For years, people have argued coherently that this is not the case, but now, with the Portuguese experiment, we have empirical proof that this will not happen. And other countries are starting to follow suit.

The momentum is building for a change in US policy, from a policy of criminalizing behavior and just throwing people in prison, to one of offering help to those who need it. The prison industrial/complex and the pharmaceutical/alcohol lobbyists will fight this battle to end. But anyone who believes in freedom and a better society must fight them back.

Why Is Afghanistan's Election Different From Iran's?

June 17th, 2009 (Fox News)

John McCain told FOX News that he didn't think President Obama was doing enough to show his support for fair elections in Iran and civil rights for Iranians after a presidential election there that "everybody knows" was corrupt.

Sen. McCain, Obama's Republican challenger in the 2008 election, suggested Wednesday in an interview with FOX News that Obama wasn't standing up for American principles.

"I'm disappointed, it is an American principle ever since our founding that we are dedicated to the principle that all are created equal and the fact is they have the right to free elections and to select their leadership," McCain said.

Afghanistan held its presidential elections this week. There are widespread and credible accusations of vote rigging and election fraud. The BBC reports that voter cards were for sale and readily available, and that the Free and Fair Election Campaign of Afghanistan is collecting evidence of abuse and fraud. That report finishes with this:

But as international forces fight and die to allow this election to go ahead, serious questions are raised about the credibility of the process and the balance between sacrifice and reward.

Where is the US outrage over this election? Could it be that we are willing to overlook reports of fraud in Afghanistan because Karzai is our puppet, but our dislike of Ahmadinejad led people like McCain to call for the U.S. to interfere in the Iranian politics?

It is precisely this sort of meddling, coupled with convenient rhetorical support for democracy, while picking sides based on short-term politics, that has destroyed the international standing of the United States, especially among the very people whose hearts and minds we should be trying to win over.

We have given up on fighting terrorism in Afghanistan. We are now fighting an insurgency, which really is none of our business, and which we cannot possibly win. The administration has decided to continue throwing away lives and money in this failed effort. So admitting that we're doing it to support a government that can't even hold fair elections would look bad. Yet that is where we are.

It's time to come home.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rush: The solution to our health care crisis is...Don't Get Sick!

Hard to argue with this logic. It's funny that the guy laughs and actually seems to agree with Limbaugh.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Here's great picture, courtesy of the US Department of Justice:

Notice how the pill form of THC is presented as safe, because, of course, it was produced by a large pharmaceutical company with only your best interests in mind, profits be damned.

And the joint is presented as ineffective because it's illegal. And it's illegal because it's ineffective. Drug warriors are legendary for epic circular reasoning for a reason!

There is some more twaddle about how the pill is better than smoking marijuana, because you can be precise with your dosage, and because there is more tar in a joint than in a cigarette.

Brilliant. No one smokes joints anymore, because it's so hard to figure out how much to smoke. Right. And who smokes a pack's worth of joints a day? Seriously, has the DoJ ever even met a pot smoker?

More Customers for the Prison Business

I've written in the past about the absolute disaster that our criminal justice is. I'd like to write about the role that private prisons have in this mess.

The United States is far and away the world leader in imprisoning it's citizens. According to Human Rights Watch,

The latest statistics, released last week, show that as of June 30, 2008, more than 2.3 million people were behind bars in this country -- an increase of almost 20 percent just since 2000. This gives the United States an incarceration rate of 762 per 100,000 residents -- the highest rate in the world, dwarfing those of other democracies like Great Britain (152 per 100,000), Canada (116), and Japan (63).

Of course incarceration doesn't affect everyone equally. Black men in the United States are 6.6 times more likely than white men to be incarcerated. More than 10 percent of all black males ages 25 to 39 were in prison or jail as of June 30, 2008. And a 2006 BJS study showed that prisons and jails have become the new asylums, with more than half of all prisoners suffering from mental health problems like major depression and psychotic disorders.

It wasn't always like this. For much of the 20th century, the US incarceration rate remained fairly stable. It began to climb sharply in the late 1970s, as a result of policy changes like mandatory minimum sentencing and the widespread abolition of parole. In the 1980s and 1990s, the "war on drugs" and "three strikes" laws fueled further growth. More people were going to prison, and staying there for longer periods of time. By 2004, the incarcerated population was six times what it had been in 1972.

Here's a visual of that, courtesy of Sen. Jim Webb:

Now, as Human Rights Watch points out, there are a lot of reasons for this increase in prison population. I would submit that at its heart, it's a belief by those in power (read: read rich white people) that most crimes are committed by people who don't look like them, and that the easiest way to deal with this is to just put them in cages.

If you think that our prison population says something good about America, here is Sen. Jim Webb, quoted from a speech on the Senate floor:

There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States;
or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of
criminal justice.

I highly recommend reading this entire speech. It's only a few pages, and I can promise you that it will be more informative than that link to Jon & Kate Plus 8 that you were thinking of hitting up.

What do private prisons have to do with all of this? Private prisons are supposed to be more cost effective, because they are run as for-profit businesses. Leaving aside the fact that they aren't really any cheaper for the taxpayer, let's consider the bigger picture.

How do private companies grow and increase profits? What has every business since the dawn of time tried to do to make more money?

They look for more customers.

When they're convincing people to buy cell phones, or trying to put people on cruise ships, this has a relatively benign effect. But when their growth is predicated on putting more people in jail, their business model becomes far more malignant.

Private prison companies, along with prison guard unions, have a vested financial interest in locking people up. This interest is completely at odds with society's interests. We have reasons to help people with drug problems, for example, so that they can be better, more productive members of society. But private prisons have an interest in just locking people in cages, because they get paid for that. And when, as a result, they become more likely to commit more crimes, they can profit again from imprisoning them a second or third time. Heck, prison growth counts toward GDP!

We should consider high incarceration rates a problem. Prison should be a last resort; it breeds criminals and is, in many cases, simply inhuman. Nothing can make a man more angry and dangerous than society's inhuman indifference to his rights as human being, and if you can't oppose mass imprisonment on moral grounds, than at least on practical terms you must realize what a disaster this has been.

The prison-industrial complex in the United States is appalling and abhorrent. If you claim to celebrate America's supposed dedication to liberty, you should try to reconcile that with our horrendous record on civil rights. A society with over 2 million of its members behind bars can hardly be considered a free country.

What Planet, Indeed?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Troy Davis Gets a Stay of Execution

Troy Davis received a stay of execution today from the Supreme Court, as it ordered a federal judge to"receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at trial clearly establishes petitioner's innocence."

Here's Amnesty International's write-up on Mr. Davis:

Restrictions on Federal appeals have prevented Troy Anthony Davis from having a hearing in federal court on the reliability of the witness testimony used against him, despite the fact that most of the witnesses have since recanted, many alleging they were pressured or coerced by police. Troy Davis remains on Georgia death row, and may be scheduled for execution in the near future.

Troy Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail at a Burger King in Savannah, Georgia; a murder he maintains he did not commit. There was no physical evidence against him and the weapon used in the crime was never found. The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state's non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.

One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester "Red" Coles – the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.

How is it possible that we are even contemplating taking this man's life? We are not only contemplating it, we are cruelly waiting until only 3 days before his scheduled execution to give him a stay. This kind of treatment in and of itself should be considered cruel and unusual.

Even more ludicrous is Justice Antonin Scalia's dissenting opinion, in which he says:

"Petitioner's claim is a sure loser. Transferring his petition to the [federal] District Court is a confusing exercise that can serve no purpose except to delay the state's execution of its lawful criminal judgment."

Antonin Scalia is so out of touch with reality that he simply has no business being on a court which can decide the fate of a man's life. Here is a quote from his opinion in Hudson:

Another development over the past half-century that deters civil-rights violations is the increasing professionalism of police forces, including a new emphasis on internal police discipline. Even as long ago as 1989, we felt it proper to “assume” that unlawful police behavior “would be dealt with appropriately” by the authorities, but we now have increasing evidence that police forces across the United States take the constitutional rights of citizens seriously. There have been “wide ranging reforms in the education, training, and supervision” of police officers (cite omitted).


Moreover, modern police forces are staffed with professionals; it is not credible to assert that internal discipline, which can limit successful careers, will not have a deterrent effect. There is also evidence that the increasing use of various forms of citizen review can enhance police accountability.

Rodney Balko scathingly refutes Scalia in a piece which you should read:

Police are certainly more highly trained than they once were, but they aren’t better trained at observing civil liberties. They’re better trained at paramilitary tactics. They’re now trained by former Navy SEALs and Army Rangers. They’re better trained at treating civilians like enemy combatants, at taking over and “clearing” rooms in private homes, not at treating the people inside as citizens with rights.


Internal affairs investigations are notoriously inept. Even in cases in which police officers were found to have committed egregious offenses, those cases were uncovered during federal investigations or during civil trials, or by journalists, or by mere happenstance — not by “internal police discipline.”

Is Scalia oblivious to “the blue wall of silence?” “Internal discipline,” as he calls it, certainly does “limit successful careers,” but not in the way Scalia portrays it. You are “disciplined” to keep quiet when it comes to abuse, excessive force, and corruption. It’s the officers who talk who eventually find their careers “severely limited.” How many examples do we need before they stop being considered anomalies?

In my research on this issue, I’ve never — not once — seen a police officer convicted of even a misdemeanor for shooting an innocent civilian in a botched raid. Very few are even subject to internal discipline. (Consider the recent case of Sal Culosi.) And it’s happened (”it” being the death of innocent as the resut of a botched raid) about three dozen times. As Justice Breyer notes in his dissent, even the state of Michigan in its brief couldn’t cite a single time a police officer has successfully been sued for conducting an illegal no-knock raid. On my personal website, I’ve kept a running list of SWAT-like raids gone bad. It’s a depressingly long list.

In sum, police aren’t better trained at respecting civil liberties, they’re better trained at finding ways to get around them. The ratcheting up of the drug war in the early 1980s has made police abuse of civil liberties routine. And let’s be clear: It is bad policy that has created this mess. Bad policy from politicians, regulators, and judges who continue to cling to the belief that if we give police just a few more drug-fighting tools, we’ll lick this “drug war” thing for good — despite an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary.

In a country where, as Senator Jim Webb said on the floor of Congress

African-Americans are about 12% of our population; contrary to a lot of thought and rhetoric, their drug use rate in terms of frequent drug use rate is about the same as all other elements of our society, about 14%. But they end up being 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of those sentenced to prison by the numbers that have been provided by us...

and where African Americans have been executed at similarly outlandish rates, and where innocent African Americans have been both convicted and executed for crimes that they did not commit, Scalia's views can only be described as stupid or inhuman.

This matters because it is this system which he assumes is infallible; so infallible, in fact, that is no point considering new, and potentially exculpatory evidence before the state murders one of it's citizens.

He assumes that the criminal system is being run fairly, because there must be people who are paying attention, while ignoring the fact that ultimately, HE is the one who is supposed to oversee it.

If Troy Davis' conviction is overturned, do you think Scalia will offer an apology? Do you think the state of Georgia could ever do anything to make this wrong right?

This is not just about whether the United States should continue to be the only civilized western nation to put its citizens to death. This debate must start by questioning our entire criminal system, which can longer possibly be considered just. Troy Davis is only the latest victim.

Friday, August 14, 2009

More Tasing

This is kind of getting routine. Here you have a woman, driving with her kids, who has clearly done nothing which would warrant getting arrested, and is simply asking the officer not to arrest her in front of her kids- for going 5mph over the limit!

This cop commits two of the most common types of police misconduct in one traffic stop.

First, he escalates the situation and then attempts to make an unlawful arrest for disorderly conduct. There is simply no disorderly conduct happening here. Well, there is, but it's the police officer committing it.

Then, he uses violent, dangerous and unnecessary force on the victim.

The cop was taken off road patrol and placed in a different assignment. Which means that he's still getting paid.

This officer should be summarily fired (the video speaks for itself), and prosecuted for assault with a deadly weapon. Because that is what this is. There should also be a separate charge for assault by a police officer; these people should be held to a higher standard. This is simply unacceptable.
Uwe Reinhardt, a Princeton economics professor and health care expert, writes about Americans' general inconsistencies when it comes to health care reform. Here's his list of things that Americans want from their health care system:

The All-American Wish List for Health Reform

1. Only patients and their own doctors should decide what clinical response is appropriate for a given medical condition, even if that response involves unproven clinical procedures or technology.

2. Neither government bureaucrats nor private insurance bureaucrats should ever refuse to pay for whatever patients and their doctors have decided to do in response to a given medical condition. An insurer’s refusal to pay for a medical procedure is tantamount to rationing health care.

3. Rationing health care is un-American.

4. Cost-effectiveness analysis should never be the basis of any coverage decision by public or private third-party payers in health care, for to do so would put a price on human life — which, in America, unlike everywhere else, is priceless.

5. Government should not require individuals to purchase health insurance. Such a mandate would violate the constitutional rights of freedom-loving Americans.

6. Americans have a moral right to life-saving and potentially highly expensive medical care, should they fall critically ill, even if they are uninsured and could not possibly pay for that care with their own financial resources. (Why else would God have created hospitals and their emergency rooms?)

7. Government should stay out of health care. Specifically, government should not control health care prices, nor should it increase its spending on health care, which is out of control.

8. Even small reductions to the future growth of Medicare spending — called “cuts” in Washington parlance — unfairly burden the elderly, along with the doctors and hospitals that serve them and the manufacturers of health products, lest the pace of technical innovation be impaired.

As I've said before, there are two different issues before us when it comes to health care reform. The first is universal coverage. The second is how to reduce the costs of the entire system. Universal coverage comes down to the fundamental issue of whether we should provide basic health care to those who can't afford it. It is not an issue of cost, although it needs to be taken into account when dealing with the cost issue.

Reinhardt's column focuses primarily on the need to reduce costs, and the inability of Americans to understand that we simply cannot have all the health care we want, all of the time. A moment's thought would reveal this to be true; there is a limited supply, and an unlimited demand. But until we come to grips with this reality, we will continue down the road to ruin.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Urban Conservative Gets the FJM Treatment

You can find the whole thing here...

But I'm just going to excerpt a few things and then make fun of them. It's lazy blogging, I know, but I've already done my research for the day.

"It is our duty as Americans to make sure that they do not pass this bill."

What bill could they be talking about, that is so bad that it is our duty, as red-blooded, freedom loving, patriotic Americans to defeat? A bill to abolish the United States? A bill that violates constitutional guarantees and our sovereign treaty obligations by allowing CIA torture? A bill that requires the original copy of the constitution to be graffitied over with a hammer and sickle and sent to North Korea to be used as toilet paper by this guy? No?

As it turns out, it's far worse. It's a bill that would extend the government's commitment to helping people gain access to health care.

Churchill once said that whoever does not learn from history is destined to repeat it...

Not to go off on a tangent, but does that mean that if some schoolchild, somewhere in the world, doesn't do her history homework, we're all going to have to relive the Bush years? It hardly seems fair.

Throughout history, it has been made clear that printing massive amounts of money to throw at all your problems temporarily solves problems, but in the end causes runaway inflation.

Of course, had we learned Reagan's history of runaway deficits we wouldn't have been doomed to repeat them with 8 years of Bush deficits, followed by the greatest economic collapse in 70 years. That's the point here, right? No? Maybe the point is that we did learn our lesson and elect Clinton, a progressive who eliminated the deficit? Not that either? Huh.

But the money being spent is not the most troubling aspect of this new bill.

Oh. Never mind then.

Everything about this new health care system would be regulated by the government.

Holy Shit! This sounds like...MEDICARE! Medicare is completely regulated by the government, which makes it evil!

Government would also cut funding for Medicare... it cuts funding for an evil program...we should vote for this bill then, right? No? Now I'm really confused.

...and mandate “end life” counseling.

Now I'm going to ignore the lies in this phrase (there is no mandate; it's an option... and it's not "end life", it's a living will option so you can control your own destiny and not leave it up to other people) and focus on the word "counseling". Because as we all know, counseling is for pansies. No patriotic American would want that. That's something the French would do.

This health care system would depend on a rationing mechanism, and this rationing would begin with the elderly.

Now I'm confused again. Am I reading the right bill? I am? Oh, you're just lying. Got it. Also, I seem to have read somewhere that all free-market systems depend on rationing mechanisms. These mechanisms are called prices. In fact, prices are what we currently use to ration health care. In the current system. The system that you are defending. In your blog about hip, urban, conservatives. But it sure doesn't begin with the elderly. You see, they have Medicare.

No one should have the right to take away your right to life, even if you don’t have much longer to live.

Fair enough. Stop talking about it then. No one else is. It makes it sound like you're obsessed with killing Grandma.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why Plea Bargains are Wrong

I've been wanting to write about the subject of plea bargains, and why I don't like them, for a while. And today seems to be the day.

What, exactly, is a plea bargain? Plea bargains are basically deals that are struck between criminal defendants and prosecutors, in which defendants agree to admit guilt and forgo a jury trial in exchange for accepting a conviction on a lesser charge than the original complaint, or a lesser sentence, or both. The deal then has to be accepted by a judge.

Proponents of plea bargains say that they reduce the need for costly and time-consuming jury trials. This may be true, but it's kind of beside the point. We could also forgo any due process, and just have the police take suspects straight to prison.

Jury trials are important. They are there so we can figure out what happened, and to allow the community to decide the guilt of the defendant.

Plea bargains are constantly abused by prosecutors. If you are arrested, expect the prosecutor to charge you with every crime that they can think of, no matter how unlikely it is to get a conviction. Then they will tell you that if you don't plea, you could be looking at 20 years in prison for a minor crime. Even if you're innocent, and realizs that a conviction is unlikely, you have to weigh the possibility that a jury won't see it that way, and so you are often forced to accept the offer.

Law Professor Stephen Shulhofer puts it this way:

"The major problem with plea bargaining is that it forces the party into a situation where they have to take a guess about what the evidence is, about how strong the case might be, and they have to make that guess against the background of enormously severe penalties if you guess wrong. So defendants, even if they have strong defenses, and even if they are innocent, in fact face enormous pressure to play the odds and to accept a plea. And the more likely they are to be innocent, and the more strong their defenses are, the bigger discount and the bigger benefits the prosecutor will offer them. Eventually at some point it becomes so tempting that it might be irresistible, especially when the consequences of guessing wrong are disastrous.

"So the result is that the system as a whole doesn't do what we count on it to do, which is to sort out the guilty people from the innocent people. It doesn't do that because the guilty people and the innocent people are all faced with the same pressure to plead guilty."

In this system, the prosecutor, who is supposed to be impartial and only looking for the truth, is, instead, playing the role of jury (deciding guilt or innocence) and judge (deciding punishment). This is completely contrary to the principles that our justice system are supposed to embody.

There are those who say that it would be impossible to have jury trials for every offense. This is true. And in fact 90% of all cases are pled, and never go to trial. But most of these cases don't involve plea bargains. They involve people who plead guilty because they know that they have no chance of winning (because they are guilty) and are not being offered any concessions by the prosecutor. I have no problem with these pleas.

But for the cases that are plea-bargained, I say, so what? If we have really criminalized so many things that we cannot afford the time and money to give people jury trials, then maybe we've simply criminalized too many things. Maybe requiring prosecutors to actually prove their cases would make them less likely to arrest people for things like disorderly conduct, or harmless drug possession.

In our system today, we simply arrest for any reason, quickly make a deal, avoid trials where people would actually get a chance to think about the fairness of laws (and the criminalizing of trivial actions), and then move on to the next victim.

For today's prison/industrial complex, this is a great way to keep the assembly line moving, and to put more and more people on probation, which is great because it allows law enforcement to hold the threat of probation revocation (without trial) over the heads of more and more people.

Here's the worst justification of all, from Law professor Bruce Green (on FRONTLINE),

"It… is in some ways fairer to witnesses and prospective jurors. Imagine if in all these cases, the victims and witnesses had to come to court to testify. And in all these cases, people had to leave their jobs in order to serve on juries. That would be very onerous for the public."

Yes, imagine the burden it places on society to actually find out if someone is guilty or not.

You Say You Want Choice

I have spoken to numerous people in the last few weeks who are concerned that they will lose some freedom of choice if the current system is changed. Leaving aside the fact that most of these people don't really have any idea how the current system works, I want to talk a little more about that.

What "choice" are they worried about losing?

The "choice" of insurance companies?

Many states right now have a only a few different insurers. These insurers are really not much different from one another, and to the extent that they are, the differences are lost in the complexity of the policies. This complexity is not accidental; it is built in to ensure that you cannot make an informed choice between plans, which means that they can add on all sorts of fees and hidden costs that you really can't understand without the help of a lawyer. And an uninformed choice is no choice at all.

People who say that they comparison shop between plans really just apply and take the lowest rate, and have no idea what they will really get, if anything, for their money. This "choice" is worse than worthless, as it will lead you to believe that you got a good deal when in fact you got coverage that won't be there when you need it.

Here's a choice that they should be worried about losing- the choice of where to work. Because 59% of Americans get their health care through work, many of them are literally unable to afford a change of jobs. Employer-based health care, of course, is subsidized by the federal government, and if you lose your job, or quit for any reason, or try to open a small business instead, you lose that subsidized health care. And when you do, you will be thrown into the individual market, and good luck getting coverage there.

In fact, if you have a pre-existing condition (which employer-plans are required to cover), the stark choice that you have is to keep working at your current job (while hoping that the economy doesn't take it away), or quit and be unable to get treatment for your condition. What kind of a choice is that?

This is actually a great deal for employers. They get subsidized health care for their employees, which they can then use as virtual blackmail to keep employees around. If you have a condition, or someone in your family does, your employer will find it pretty easy to pass you up for raises or promotions. You will find yourself virtually a slave to your employer; they will hold the ultimate card-the health of you and your family.

We should be asking a fundamental question. Why are employers involved in health care at all? The answer to that question is that during World War II, the government instituted wage freezes, and so employers started to add fringe beneifits in order to attract workers. And since they were never taxed, the practice stuck.

But it is an inefficient way around a temporary problem. We have hundreds of thousands of employers who are each struggling to figure out how to deal with health care, which is an issue that most of them know nothing about. And the government is essentially paying each of these companies to do this by giving them a tax break. Why not just have the government perform this role? They can have one agency, instead of thousands, whose sole mission it is to administer health care insurance.

Employers have no business being involved in this. Let's end it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Attorney General: Torture is OK, if it's done right!

Breaking news from the LA Times: Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to investigate only those instances of torture which exceeded the official directions for torturing people.

This is worse than doing nothing.

The Justice Department is sanctioning torture by saying that it will investigate only those instances in which CIA operatives went beyond the official guidelines for torturing suspects, including children like Mohamed Jawad.

If haven't been following this issue, let me sum it up for you.

The Bush administration asked for, and received, a memo from a low-ranking Justice Department lawyer, John Yoo, which said that certain "interrogation techniques" were not torture. These include techniques which the US Government officially considers to be torture when used by other countries. These techniques are undoubtedly torture. No sane person could argue otherwise.

On the basis of this memo, the CIA tortured and killed people who were picked up during the war in Afghanistan. Many of these people are still being held today on the basis of nothing more than confessions which were elicited while they were being tortured.

Torture is against the law. It is duty of the Justice Department to uphold the law, and to prosecute crimes. Members of the government (including presidents, as those who voted to impeach Clinton are well aware), are not above the law. Government officials who authorize torture break the law, and should be investigated and tried.

This is all fairly straightforward. But what the government is doing today is saying that, because John Yoo told them that (in his opinion) this was not torture, the officials who authorized the torture get a free pass. In other words, John Yoo can write a memo which would enable the government to do anything it wants.

Want to jail all opponents of health care reform? Get John Yoo (who works for you!) to say it's ok. If he won't do it, find someone who will.

Want to assassinate certain congressional leaders who oppose you? Get John Yoo to say it's ok.

Feel like shutting down the press? Get John Yoo to say it's ok.

Tired of religious opposition? Outlaw religious gatherings and get John Yoo to say it's ok.

If this seems like a stretch, consider that the US Government, by its own admission, tortured and killed people without even pretending to give them due process of the law.

That is what the Attorney General of the United States, supposedly the world leader in practicing (and certainly in preaching) the sanctity of the rule of law, has today decided should be the official policy of the Obama administration. That the law is what the president says it is.


Why are progressive liberals the only ones outraged? Where is the voice of conservatives, who supposedly believe in the santicy of individual rights?

Peggy Noonan vs Your Health

Peggy Noonan is somehow still allowed to write a column at the Wall Street Journal.

We have entered uncharted territory in the fight over national health care. There’s a new tone in the debate, and it’s ugly. At the moment the Democrats are looking like something they haven’t looked like in years, and that is: desperate.
They must know at this point they should not have pushed a national health-care plan. A Democratic operative the other day called it “Hillary’s revenge.” When Mrs. Clinton started losing to Barack Obama in the primaries 18 months ago, she began to give new and sharper emphasis to her health-care plan. Mr. Obama responded by talking about his health-care vision. He won. Now he would push what he had been forced to highlight: Health care would be a priority initiative. The net result is falling support for his leadership on the issue, falling personal polls, and the angry town-hall meetings that have electrified YouTube.

So, according to Peggy Noonan, (who is a Republican speechwriter, just to be clear), Obama's health-care vision helped him win the election. People voted for him because they wanted his version of health-care reform. But according to her, that same health-care reform his going to be the death of his presidency. Doesn't add up, really.

Just so we can add a little context, here are some poll numbers from the latest NYT/CBS News survey:

Which of the following three statements comes closest to expressing your overall view of the health care system in the United States: 1. On the whole, the health care system works pretty well and only minor changes are necessary to make it work better. 2. There are some good things in our health care system, but fundamental changes are needed. 3. Our health care system has so much wrong with it that we need to completely rebuild it.

Minor changes 16%
Fundamental changes 49%
Completely rebuild 33%
DK/NA 3%

Regardless of how you usually vote, who do you think has better ideas about reforming the health care system — Barack Obama, or the Republicans in Congress?

Obama 55%
Republicans in Congress 26%
Both(vol.) 1%
Neither(vol.) 7%
DK/NA 11%

So, 82% of people in this poll believe that our health-care system should be fundamentally changed, or completely rebuilt. And 55% of people believe believe that Obama has better ideas about health care reform. And yet we should listen to a Republican speechwriter when she says that there is falling support for Obama's leadership on this issue, and that he never should have taken up the issue. In fact he should have ignored a health-care system that most people think should be fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt!

She then offers, for those people might believe that Obama is doing this because it's the right thing to do, an alternative explanation: Obama is just doing this because he has to, because he made a campaign promise. This is asinine.

First off, Obama promised to fundamentally change the Bush policies on indefinite detention of terror suspects, without charges, trials, or any semblance of habeus corpus. He also promised to allow gays to serve in the military. He has done nothing in either of these areas, except to continue the Bush policy on detentions, and even make it worse. So claiming that he's just doing this because he made a campaign promise requires a little more evidence than Noonan is providing, which is none.

Secondly, her assertion that he is mistakenly sticking to his promises despite the political perils should be taken as a compliment, except for the fact that it's belied by the poll numbers suggesting that Americans, by a wide margin, believe that that health care reform needs to be done.

Ms. Noonan should remember, when she makes stories up out of thin air, that they at least should be plausible.

And so the shock on the faces of Congressmen who’ve faced the grillings back home. And really, their shock is the first thing you see in the videos. They had no idea how people were feeling. Their 2008 win left them thinking an election that had been shaped by anti-Bush, anti-Republican, and pro-change feeling was really a mandate without context; they thought that in the middle of a historic recession featuring horrific deficits, they could assume support for the invention of a huge new entitlement carrying huge new costs.

In fact, as the poll numbers show, they actually have this support.

The passions of the protesters, on the other hand, are not a surprise. They hired a man to represent them in Washington. They give him a big office, a huge staff and the power to tell people what to do. They give him a car and a driver, sometimes a security detail, and a special pin showing he’s a congressman. And all they ask in return is that he see to their interests and not terrify them too much. Really, that’s all people ask. Expectations are very low. What the protesters are saying is, “You are terrifying us

What protesters are saying this? The protesters at these rallies are people who are brought there by health care and pharmaceutical lobbyists, who are coached by them on how to disrupt these events, and refuse to even let the congressmen speak. These people may be terrified, but if they are, they have been terrified by corporate-sponsored groups who feed them lies and then send them out to shout down the those who wish to actually debate. And stifling the debate gets nothing done, and leaves us with the status quo- the current system which is fantastic for those same corporate interests, but terrible for everyone else. And stifling the debate means that I get to write about how the debate is stifled, and about the politics of it all, instead of the issues. And if you're a Republican operative, like Ms. Noonan is, then issues are things to be avoided.

What has been most unsettling is not the congressmen’s surprise but a hard new tone that emerged this week. The leftosphere and the liberal commentariat charged that the town-hall meetings weren’t authentic, the crowds were ginned up by insurance companies, lobbyists and the Republican National Committee. But you can’t get people to leave their homes and go to a meeting with a congressman (of all people) unless they are engaged to the point of passion. And what tends to agitate people most is the idea of loss—loss of money hard earned, loss of autonomy, loss of the few things that work in a great sweeping away of those that don’t

This is true. And one way to make them passionate is to lie to them and tell them that the government is going to take away their health care, and euthanize them when they get old. And the point of her article seems to be that Obama should have known that the Republican/Corporatorial/Industrial Complex (yes, I just made that word up) would lie to people who don't know any better, and so he should have left health care alone.

In other words, Obama is a fool for risking his poll numbers on something as trivial as health care for Americans.

Also, note that she admits that a few good things might be swept away in a great sweeping away of thing that don't. Of course, she considers private health care insurance as intrinsically "good", whether or not it works, which it clearly doesn't.

Then came the Democratic Party charge that the people at the meetings were suspiciously well-dressed, in jackets and ties from Brooks Brothers. They must be Republican rent-a-mobs. Sen. Barbara Boxer said on MSNBC’s “Hardball” that people are “storming these town-hall meetings,” that they were “well dressed,” that “this is all organized,” “all planned,” to “hurt our president.” Here she was projecting. For normal people, it’s not all about Barack Obama.

But for Republican operatives like yourself, Ms. Noonan, it IS all about Obama. That's why you label it Obama-care. That's why Rep. Sen Jim DeMint said, "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." But of of course, you really aren't normal, are you?

Your health care, Ms Noonan, no doubt is secure. Sen DeMint's health care, which is provided by the federal government, is also secure. So you're not too worried about that. No, your worry is that you are losing your grip on power, and this is all about power. If you thought that nuking Iran and killing a few million innocent people would guarantee a Republican presidency, you'd probably push the button yourself.

The Democratic National Committee chimed in with an incendiary Web video whose script reads, “The right wing extremist Republican base is back.” DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse issued a statement that said the Republicans “are inciting angry mobs of . . . right wing extremists” who are “not reflective of where the American people are.”

But most damagingly (sic) to political civility, and even our political tradition, was the new White House email address to which citizens are asked to report instances of “disinformation” in the health-care debate: If you receive an email or see something on the Web about health-care reform that seems “fishy,” you can send it to The White House said it was merely trying to fight “intentionally misleading” information.

Ms. Noonan doesn't even bother to argue with the first paragraph, because she knows that it's true. And she tries to counter that by citing the White House's efforts to do something about the very lies that these Republican and corporate operatives are spreading.

All of this is unnecessarily and unhelpfully divisive and provocative. They are mocking and menacing concerned citizens. This only makes a hot situation hotter. Is this what the president wants? It couldn’t be. But then in an odd way he sometimes seems not to have fully absorbed the awesome stature of his office. You really, if you’re president, can’t call an individual American stupid, if for no other reason than that you’re too big. You cannot allow your allies to call people protesting a health-care plan “extremists” and “right wing,” or bought, or Nazi-like, either. They’re citizens. They’re concerned. They deserve respect.

You know, I think that if a police officer behaves in a stupid way, than the president has every right to call him out on it, especially if this stupidity is widespread and has nationally important negative consequences. What would you have him say? That it was “unfortunate”? That it was “something that should be looked at”? And it's the de facto leader of your party, Rush Limbaugh, who is comparing Obama to Hitler:

Where is your outrage?

And frankly, they ought to think about backing off. The president should call in his troops and his Congress and announce a rethinking. There are too many different bills, they’re all a thousand pages long, no one has time to read them, no one knows what’s going to be in the final one, the public is agitated, the nation’s in crisis, the timing is wrong, we’ll turn to it again—but not now. We’ll take a little longer, ponder every aspect, and make clear every complication.

In other words, because your party is poisoning the debate and spreading lies, and you've got the public agitated, we should pass on this and do it later, presumably when there is no public passion, and therefore it won't ever happen.
Yes, we should take longer and get a better plan than we have now. But we're going to get a crappy plan, that's just a little better than the shitty system we have now, because you are going to compare every decent policy to the Final Solution.

Friday, August 7, 2009

More Tasering

Digby has a great post on this here.

Here's another example of why so many people dislike cops. These officers follow what has become the standard procedure. You find a person who is unpleasant, but not dangerous, and you confront him. The person gets angry, because (for good reason), he doesn't like cops. When he insults you, you shoot him, or, if you're at a baseball game in front of thousands of people and are afraid someone might notice him dying, you Taser him. Never mind that he has shown no sign of violence. Never mind that Tasering hurts like hell, or that he could go into cardiac arrest, or that it's likely that rendering a drunk person unconscious might result in him falling and seriously injuring himself. Let's not concern ourselves with the victim's (yes, victim is the word I wanted to use) civil rights, or his right to free speech or his right to hate cops. And it's obvious that we don't give a damn about the physical safety of these people.

After all, as the officer is clearly heard at the 3:30 mark or so in defending his action, this man was "belligerent".

Belligerent, of course, is a catch all term which means he offended the personal sensitivities of Mr. Hero Cop, who couldn't, with the help of 4 of his friends, deal with a drunk guy watching a baseball game. Belligerent is kind of like the word "tumultuous", which is how officer Crowley described Professor Gates behavior, and was his rationale for arresting him. Civilians should realize that the cop definition of those two words is "behavior that indicates that the subject does not respect my authority." In other words, if you don't sit there and say "Yes, Officer", no matter what injustice the officer is perpetrating upon you, then you are being unlawfully belligerent or tumultuous, and for that behavior, you can be subject to excessive force and unlawful arrest.

Why are we starting to see more and more of these bad cops? I, of course, have a theory.
I like to think that once upon a time people respected cops. Sure, they might pull you over and give you a speeding ticket, but speeding is one of those things we shouldn't do. It's harmful to society; it unfairly puts other people at risk. And the rest of the things that cops did were things that needed to get done, and people respected them for doing them.

And then we declared a war on drugs. Today, cops spend huge amounts of time trying to put people in jail for using drugs in what is often a safe and societally responsible way. The more that this is done, the more people dislike cops and what they do. And then at some point most people just decide that being a cop isn't cool anymore. The people that I know who would make great cops wouldn't never even consider it. And that is a direct result of the drug war.

This, I believe, is where we are today. Especially among young people. And young people are going to be the next generation of cops.

What kind of people, then, do you get applying for police jobs? You get people who believe in all of these policies, and who necessarily believe that they are qualified to decide what kinds of substances you should be allowed to ingest. In short, you get control freaks with a sense of superiority and the belief that they deserve to sit in judgement of other peoples' actions.

These are also the same kind of people who like to shoot people with 50,000 volts of electricity for daring to talk back to a cop.

It's just a theory.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tasering 76 Year Olds...Wyoming's Finest

From the KULR8 TV web site...

GLENROCK, WYOMING - A 76-year-old Wyoming man shot with a Taser by police during a parade in the small town of Glenrock says it hurt but he's OK. Retired truck driver Bud Grose of Glenrock told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Wednesday that he has a heart condition but he didn't require any medical attention.
He declined to discuss specifics of the incident until he speaks to his attorney.
Two officers in the town of Glenrock were placed on paid leave and state agents are investigating, but the police chief says it doesn't appear any policies were violated.
State investigator Tim Hill says the police officers contend Grose disobeyed their orders while riding on an antique tractor during the town's parade Saturday.

I this pretty much speaks for itself, but I'll comment on it briefly anyway. Last week, I wrote about the growing tendency of police in this country to escalate violence (and Tasering is definitely violent). No doubt the Glenrock police department will refer to the tasering as a less-violent technique, but less violent than what? The fact that they may have considered shooting this man is not an excuse for using a less lethal, but still potentially deadly, excessive, brutal, unnecessary and violent weapon on a 76 year old man who exhibited absolutely no signs of violence.

How can anyone possibly justify this kind of police behavior?

A Few More Thoughts on the Health Care Debate

I'm still very curious about the great numbers of people who believe that a free market in health care is attainable, and that it would be something that we would even want if it was.

Let's take just a second and consider what a free market is. Here's the Wiki definition:

A free market is a term that economists use to describe a market which is free from economic intervention and regulation by government, other than protection of property rights (i.e. no regulation, no subsidization, no single monetary system, and no governmental monopolies).

Does this sound like something that has even remotely been close to existing in this country over the last 100 years or more? It sure doesn't sound like it to me. So if you're operating under the illusion that health care reform is going to take away your free market health care, wake up. That train left the station around the time we started regulating snake oil salesman.

Like it or not, if you are defending the current system, the following facts are indisputable:

1. The government regulates nearly every aspect of health care already.

2. The government is already the single largest provider of health care in the United States.

3. If your health care is not being rationed by a government bureaucrat, then it's being rationed by a corporate one, unless you are rationing it yourself.

4. If you are in the unsubsidized individual health care market (which is the closest thing to a free market there is in this country's health care system) then you are already subject to denial of care, waiting for care, fighting with a corporation who doesn't want to pay for your care, and are at risk of having your coverage arbitrarily denied when you need it the most (i.e., when a profit-driven insurance company decides that your potential costs exceed your future premiums, and send an army of lawyers to find technical reasons on your initial application to deny your coverage. Note that they will only do this if you become unprofitable; good luck asking for your money back if you never make a claim, but YOU find something wrong with your application.)

So this is the system you're defending on a free-market basis. It's truly amazing how people can continue to cover their ears and repeat "I'm not listening!" over and over again.

Please, people. Start listening!


One of the main reasons to have a market system is to be able to ration scarce goods and services. The reason to have a market-based health care system is to separate those who can pay from those who can't. So, if you're arguing for a market-based system in health care, you are essentially arguing that people who cannot afford to pay for health should not be treated. If this is your position, then arguing for a market-based health care system makes sense. If you believe this, you have either failed to think about what that means (people dying in the streets, literally) or you are basically a total asshole. And if you belong to any of the world's major religions and think this, then you should probably go back and revisit some of the important tenets of your respective religion, all of which require you to help people in need. (And yes, right-wing, Republican religious fundamentalists, that was aimed directly at you.)

But if you think that we should give people essential health care, even if they can't afford it, then the whole market system breaks down. And the debate should shift to finding ways to do this efficiently.

The system we have right now wastes billions of dollars on strategies and resources which are designed to separate you from your money, and to deny you health care when you need it most. We could probably give health care to every indigent person in the country with the money that we're wasting on lawyers and accountants and bureaucrats whose sole job it is to help companies make profits by taking in more of your money, and giving out less of their health care. But out of some blind, reflexive, unthinking loyalty to the idea of a free market which doesn't even exist, opponents of reform defend this system with covered ears while shouting down people who want to talk about facts.

It's frustrating when a child does it. But it's far worse when adults, who should know better, use this strategy to poison a debate that is this important.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Yeah, That'll Show Them

The New York Times has an article on the fine that Bank of America (BoA) received from the SEC. Basically, Bank of America lied to its shareholders about the $5 billion dollars in bonuses that it paid Merrill Lynch employees after it merged with them.

In the middle of a $50 billion acquisition, and with taxpayer backstops and financing, BoA gave the people who had destroyed Merrill Lynch $5 billion in bonuses. And then they hid this fact from the people who owned Bank of America- the shareholders.

For this, the agency charged with regulating them fined them $33 million.

Does this sound a little off? It does to me. Let's put this in perspective by changing the absolute values of the numbers, but keeping the relative values the same.

This is as if BoA, after closing a $50,000 deal with an insolvent company, paid the employees of that insolvent company $5000 of government-backed money, and then lied to its shareholders about it. And to make sure that something like this never happens again, the SEC fines them $33 bucks.

This is worse then no fine at all. This essentially legitimizes that kind of behavior by telling executives that "it's fine, just pay the fine", thereby removing even the social stigma of ripping people off.

Ugh. Who are we kidding? On Wall Street, the social stigma comes from not ripping people off.


This reminds of something I've wanted to take about for a while-the regressive nature of fines. How can it possibly make sense for a crime to carry the same fine, regardless of the financial situation of the person who committed it? If a fine is supposed to be punitive, then it will obviously be far more punitive to a poor person that to a rich one. What justice does this serve?

Fines are a great way for rich people to avoid jail time. I think we should do away with them. If it's a crime, let's people in jail, or censure them publicly. But let's not allow two standards of punishment to apply.

At the very least, a $1000 fine for someone who makes $25,000 per year should translate to a $100,000 fine for someone who makes $2.5 million.