Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"There Ought NOT Be a Law..."

In America we don't suffer well the pain of not getting what we want, and that includes justice. When we see something that strikes us as "wrong" or "unfair", we naturally assume it's illegal and someone will be punished.

This is not the case.

Consider, if you will, the case of John Oxendine. He had a history of abusing his son, Jeffrey; Oxendine's live-in girlfriend, Leotha Tyree, knew of this abuse and did nothing to stop it. One morning, Tyree pushed 6-year old Jeffrey into the bathtub of their apartment, resulting in internal bleeding. Over the next few hours Jeffrey felt poorly and complained of stomach pain; when Oxendine called home from work to check in, Jeffrey told him of his pain but not the genesis of it. Jeffrey received no medical attention.

The following morning, Oxendine tried to take Jeffrey. Jeffrey was sluggish and unresponsive to Oxendine's screaming, and the father then proceeded to start physically abusing the boy. Neighbors claimed to hear Jeffrey beg "No, Daddy, don't hurt me" and heard what was described as a loud thud, consistent with an incredibly hard blow to flesh.

Oxendine then went to work. Tyree noticed during the day that Jeffrey's stomach was swelling and encouraged Oxendine to take him to the doctor, but Oxendine refused. After coming home from work and seeing Jeffrey's condition, Oxendine left for a newspaper and when he returned home to read it, Tyree had prepared Jeffrey for a trip to the hospital.

Jeffrey died before he got medical treatment.

Tyree was charged with Second Degree Murder and Oxendine was charged with Manslaughter, which is legally described as reckless or wanton behavior resulting in the death of a human being.

Now think about what happened to Oxendine at trial. The way the Manslaughter statutes are written, the prosecution was unable to satisfy the burden of proof for the elements of the crime. The defense was able to get expert medical testimony that reasonably cast doubt on the assertion that Oxendine was the true factor in Jeffrey's death.

This is partly because 1) the prosecutor did not evaluate the case correctly and pushed an argument that did not legally fit the situation and 2) simply stated, as heinous as the facts of the case may be, Oxendine is not criminally liable in a way most people will find savory.

The court instead found that Oxendine's actions did not fit the definition of Manslaughter in the way the prosecutor had framed the faulty argument, and the charges were amended down to Second Degree Assault. While this sounds like a gross miscarriage of justice, note that Oxendine served THE SAME AMOUNT OF JAIL TIME under the amended charge as he would've for the initial charge. Justice?

In the view of the way our legal system works, yes. That is justice. The punishment fit the crime, in that the "crime" is defined by the statute in a certain way and certain elements must be present for there to be a "crime" at all. For example, there can be no murder without the "attendant circumstance" that the victim is a human being--if you kill an animal, it's not murder. All crimes have similar elements that make fitting an act into a criminal statute akin to finding the fitting puzzle piece.

Will this answer please everyone? Certainly not. We are disgusted when we hear Oxendine wasn't convicted of murder, when it seems so natural to us to feel that way.

Our system is, in general, a fair system. People are presumed innocent. We have rights that cannot be taken away without our permission. By and large, we live by a very fair set of rules when compared to most other countries.

But our system is not--nor will it ever be--perfect. A legislature CANNOT write an statute for any crime and expect it to perfectly fit the fact patterns of every incident that occurs. There will be loopholes. There will be people that "escape" what we feel is a fair and just result. It is the way of the world.

Despite the imperfections and how disgusted we sometimes get by reading cases similar to that of poor Jeffrey Oxendine, I've yet to see a legal system to work any better than ours.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"New Rule: Rich People Who Complain About Being Vilified Should Be Vilified" from Blogga Please

by Bill Maher

New Rule: The next rich person who publicly complains about being vilified by the Obama administration must be publicly vilified by the Obama administration. It's so hard for one person to tell another person what constitutes being "rich", or what tax rate is "too much." But I've done some math that indicates that, considering the hole this country is in, if you are earning more than a million dollars a year and are complaining about a 3.6% tax increase, then you are by definition a greedy asshole.

And let's be clear: that's 3.6% only on income above 250 grand -- your first 250, that's still on the house. Now, this week we got some horrible news: that one in seven Americans are now living below the poverty line. But I want to point you to an American who is truly suffering: Ben Stein. You know Ben Stein, the guy who got rich because when he talks it sounds so boring it's actually funny. He had a game show on Comedy Central, does eye drop commercials, doesn't believe in evolution? Yeah, that asshole. I kid Ben -- so, the other day Ben wrote an article about his struggle. His struggle as a wealthy person facing the prospect of a slightly higher marginal tax rate. Specifically, Ben said that when he was finished paying taxes and his agents, he was left with only 35 cents for every dollar he earned. Which is shocking, Ben Stein has an agent? I didn't know Broadway Danny Rose was still working.

Ben whines in his article about how he's worked for every dollar he has -- if by work you mean saying the word "Bueller" in a movie 25 years ago. Which doesn't bother me in the slightest, it's just that at a time when people in America are desperate and you're raking in the bucks promoting some sleazy Free Credit Score dot-com... maybe you shouldn't be asking us for sympathy. Instead, you should be down on your knees thanking God and/or Ronald Reagan that you were lucky enough to be born in a country where a useless schmuck who contributes absolutely nothing to society can somehow manage to find himself in the top marginal tax bracket.

And you're welcome to come on the show anytime.

Now I can hear you out there saying, "Come on Bill, don't be so hard on Ben Stein, he does a lot of voiceover work, and that's hard work." Ok, it's true, Ben is hardly the only rich person these days crying like a baby who's fallen off his bouncy seat. Last week Mayor Bloomberg of New York complained that all his wealthy friends are very upset with mean ol' President Poopy-Pants: He said they all say the same thing: "I knew I was going to have to pay more taxes. But I didn't expect to be vilified." Poor billionaires -- they just can't catch a break.

First off, far from being vilified, we bailed you out -- you mean we were supposed to give you all that money and kiss your ass, too? That's Hollywood you're thinking of. FDR, he knew how to vilify; this guy, not so much. And second, you should have been vilified -- because you're the vill-ains! I'm sure a lot of you are very nice people. And I'm sure a lot of you are jerks. In other words, you're people. But you are the villains. Who do you think outsourced all the jobs, destroyed the unions, and replaced workers with desperate immigrants and teenagers in China. Joe the Plumber?

And right now, while we run trillion dollar deficits, Republicans are holding America hostage to the cause of preserving the Bush tax cuts that benefit the wealthiest 1% of people, many of them dead. They say that we need to keep taxes on the rich low because they're the job creators. They're not. They're much more likely to save money through mergers and outsourcing and cheap immigrant labor, and pass the unemployment along to you.

Americans think rich people must be brilliant; no -- just ruthless. Meg Whitman is running for Governor out here, and her claim to fame is, she started e-Bay. Yes, Meg tapped into the Zeitgeist, the zeitgeist being the desperate need of millions of Americans to scrape a few dollars together by selling the useless crap in their garage. What is e-Bay but a big cyber lawn sale that you can visit without putting your clothes on?

Another of my favorites, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said, "I don't know where they're going to get all this money, because we're running out of rich people in this country." Actually, we have more billionaires here in the U.S. than all the other countries in the top ten combined, and their wealth grew 27% in the last year. Did yours? Truth is, there are only two things that the United States is not running out of: Rich people and bullshit. Here's the truth: When you raise taxes slightly on the wealthy, it obviously doesn't destroy the economy -- we know this, because we just did it -- remember the '90's? It wasn't that long ago. You were probably listening to grunge music, or dabbling in witchcraft. Clinton moved the top marginal rate from 36 to 39% -- and far from tanking, the economy did so well he had time to get his dick washed.

Even 39% isn't high by historical standards. Under Eisenhower, the top tax rate was 91%. Under Nixon, it was 70%. Obama just wants to kick it back to 39 -- just three more points for the very rich. Not back to 91, or 70. Three points. And they go insane. Steve Forbes said that Obama, quote "believes from his inner core that people... above a certain income have more than they should have and that many probably have gotten it from ill-gotten ways." Which they have. Steve Forbes, of course, came by his fortune honestly: he inherited it from his gay egg-collecting, Elizabeth Taylor fag-hagging father, who inherited it from his father. Of course then they moan about the inheritance tax, how the government took 55% percent when Daddy died -- which means you still got 45% for doing nothing more than starting out life as your father's pecker-snot.

We don't hate rich people, but have a little humility about how you got it and stop complaining. Maybe the worst whiner of all: Stephen Schwarzman, #69 on Forbes' list of richest Americans, compared Obama's tax hike to "when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939." Wow. If Obama were Hitler, Mr. Schwarzman, I think your tax rate would be the least of your worries.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Social Network

New Rule: Nobody wants to see a movie about Facebook. What's the big Second Act crisis, a server going down? If this is a hit, what next? "Google: The Musical?" "Craigslist 3D - The Search For A Slightly Used Rowing Machine?" They might as well make a sitcom out of that blog where some guy just repeats shit his dad says.
-Bill Maher. "New Rules." Real Time with Bill Maher. 2010 September 17.

Last night I attended a press screening of The Social Network.

The Social Network
Dir: David Fincher
By: Aaron Sorkin
Book: Ben Mezrich
Score: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
This screening is the first I've been to since I saw Bill Maher's Religulous. Sorry, Bill, bit I enjoyed both films. I couldn't help myself from chuckling at Maher's new rule about The Social Network, but I fully expected a film by Dave Fincher and Aaron Sorkin with music by Trent Reznor to be emotionally effective.

I was not disappointed. Even though I opened my Facebook account back when it was still called thefacebook.com, the film made me feel like I want to be a part of the website. I am adding Facebook integration across the online Bad Mutha Boobiverse, and this film is absolutely responsible for my decision to do this.

Allegedly the film paints Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in a negative light, but the film made me want to work with him. If he's much like the character Jesse Eisenberg portrayed him as, he and I have a lot in common, including a distaste for money and condescension.

The movie is called The Social Network, but the film is not about Facebook. The film is about a fictional character named Mark Zuckerberg based on a character named Mark Zuckerberg from the nonfiction book The Accidental Billionaires based on a real man named Mark Zuckerberg. And the movie is a fine film.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How we can have way more jobs, short and sweet

Eliminate the notion of necessary full-time employment. Split full-time positions into part-time positions, and offer higher wages with fewer perks & benefits. If everyone who works full-time at minimum wage worked 20 hours a week at double minimum wage, a huge portion of the unemployed population could have jobs as well.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Burning Books and Buildings and Specifics

A morbid anniversary happened over the weekend.  Some used the occasion to mourn, others to reflect, others to cash in, and others to frighten.  Some specific individuals and groups were singled out by reporters, bloggers, analysts, pundits, politicians, correspondents, and commentators.

People noticed that a lot of hubbub was being raised over very isolated acts by very unnoteworthy people.  Naturally, instead of stopping the coverage of the unimportant, our newsmakers began conversing about the inappropriate volume of their own coverage.  We went from coverage to overcoverage to metacoverage to metaovercoverage to overmetaovercoverage remarkably quickly.

If you are reading this post shortly after its publication date, you probably know exactly what I am alluding to here.  If you are reading this post sometime in the future, hopefully you have no idea what specific events I am hinting at here.

A couple weeks ago, I told you, in more words, that being given attention is the only victory terrorists can ever achieve.

Today, I take a step further and insist suggest that we should not make public value judgments (broadcast "oughts") about specific real-world incidents.  We should reserve our judgments about specific real-world incidents for private, and while we are broadcasting the news, we should make value judgments only about generalities or hypothetical situations.

Now, to break my own rule, I would like to share a couple favorite quotations from last week's over*coverages:
"You aren't responsible for Quran burners. Don't hold Muslims responsible for 9/11." –Will Saletan. "We Didn't Start the Fire." Slate. 2010 September 8.

"The reason not to burn Qurans is that it's unkind -- not to jihadists, but to Muslims who mean us no harm." –Ann Coulter. "Bonfire of the Insanities." AnnCoulter.com. 2010 September 8.
Both of these quotations portray my exact sentiments much more eloquently than I could.  I am pained that the second quotation is from that Ann Coulter.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

One Solution to the Jobs Problem

One time a thing occurred to me, why do the "recovery jobs" have to focus on the broadest qualifications?

I heard some statistics recently, and while I do not remember the specifics, I remember that the gist was an alarming proportion of the workforce are stuck in jobs for which they are overqualified.

Here is my simple suggestion for the week: if the federal government creates any more stimulus jobs, let the government create high-level, highly specialized jobs and push the new openings hard.  People who are qualified will take these jobs and move to them out of their lower-level jobs, opening these jobs for people to move up in (or up into) the job market.

I do not see how creating new unskilled or unspecialized jobs is preferable to this plan.  If it is, please fill me in.  If I'm onto something, though, pass it on.  Feel free to take credit for it.