Do No Harm

Today’s question:

Hippocrates famously said: “Make a habit of two things: to help; or at least to do no harm.” Add one more important habit to his list.

Never mind that he didn’t actually say any such thing….

But as long as doing helpful things and refraining from doing harmful things is the topic, let’s go back to another ancient source, a fellow named Siddhartha Gautama. He taught that we would be happier if we followed eight habits, including seeing the world as it really is, paying attention why we want things, saying the right things (not saying bad things), doing the right things (again, not doing bad things), having a job that is good for the community or mankind (yeah, maybe “assassin” isn’t a proper career path), putting a good effort into all we do, being aware, and focusing on things where appropriate.

You don’t have to believe everything he said to think those are good ideas.

In Closing: keep looking up; a research problem; unfortunately I doubt they mean it; finally somebody thought about it (at least a little); Dayton; civil rights; words.

Music Monday: Come Out

Here’s a long overdue habit for some people: see others as human beings rather than members of a group of people. Or as one guy put it, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Racism (and sexism) should have gone out of style a generation ago. Yet, somehow or another there are those that think it’s ok to criticize the President’s heritage rather than his policies. There are people who fear or think themselves better than those who are different — bafflingly, often at the same time! This is the 21st Century; time to stop it.

Since each of us is an individual, that means each of us must stop ourselves if we have an unworthy thought before it becomes a despicable action.

In honor of MLK’s birthday, I bring you music from the Civil Rights era. Come Out is an early work of minimalism. I recommend listening in stereo and giving it at least 3 minutes before you decide whether you like it or not. I’m a little disappointed that so little is said about the technique of layering tape recordings that differ ever so slightly in timing.

No Reason to Subscribe to Fortune

Let’s cut to the meat:

[I]f America fails to enact historic, structural reforms in spending, an entirely new source of revenue will be needed. And it’s likely to be enacted in haste and near-panic, as the only option to forestalling a crisis. “The gap between revenues and outlays will be simply too large,” says J.D. Foster, an economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation and a former budget official under President George W. Bush. “Three points of GDP need to be closed to make budgets sustainable. Either government spending gets back near where it used to be, or we’ll need an completely new type of tax.”

The new levy will need to be big, so big that the most probable choice is a European-style value-added tax or VAT. That looming revenue machine is the phantom in the room, the tax that’s still invisible to most Americans, but that threatens precisely the group that’s supposed to emerge from all the deal-making as the Great Unthreatened, our middle class.

Now then, let me explain why a VAT — particularly a hastily enacted VAT — is absolutely not going to happen. It’s called the 16th Amendment:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

Congress has two ways of taxing us. The first is a tax based on the number of people in the state. It should be obvious that it’s not entirely fair to make your tax bill based on state population without regard for your ability to pay (it seemed like a good idea in the 18th century), so the 16th Amendment had to be passed to make income tax legal. I am not a lawyer or a constitutional scholar, but I don’t see a damn thing in the Constitution or Amendment 16 that makes a national sales tax legal.

Anybody who wants a VAT had better start working on an amendment to the Constitution. That cannot be done in haste.

This article is supposed to scare you and I into insisting on austerity rather than implement this improbable, middle class “crushing” tax. Heaven forbid we should raise additional revenue through higher taxes on the wealthy at the rates they were under Reagan, or Nixon, or heaven forbid Eisenhower (all “conservative” Republicans of their day). Nope, easier to frighten you into giving up the things your taxes have paid for: well maintained roads; safe water coming out of your tap and safe food available at your local grocer; police and fire services; public schools that make sure businesses can hire literate employees anywhere in the nation; a minimal retirement income you already paid for. Nope, gotta cut back somewhere.

In Closing: scientific method suggests that when your experiment doesn’t work, you change the hypothesis; what a sleeze; let’s not lock kids up in solitary; wealth gap grows; agreed; women will die because their parents are afraid they will think sex is ok; I find it hard to believe that’s cost effective; “Just how many female-headed single-parent families with two children under 10 are there in the United States making $260K/year, anyway?”; and wouldn’t that be a waste.

Shorties Night 3D

Ok, I’m all tabbed up so let’s get rolling!

Not sure what to think: Ron Paul wants to make sure kids aren’t subjected to mandatory mental health screenings. On one hand I don’t want to see kids needlessly medicated. On the other hand, I know people who really could have and should have been diagnosed with treatable mental health disorders as kids!

Side Effect: Women are suing cops for tricking them into long term relationships with their undercover alter-egos. Oops.

Never Thought I’d Link Glenn Greenwald: But he’s right about the detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act. It’s there in black and white, no matter how people spin it.

Cat Herding: How Occupy Portland outsmarted the cops (without necessarily planning it that way).

Good Grief: 10 things you didn’t know about “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

I hope they didn’t spend a lot of money on that research: “The more a person drinks the more likely they are to have unprotected sex, according to research.”

This looks good: Dark Chocolate Macadamia Bark with Sea Salt.

Remember this when your Christmas bills arrive: Minimum payments will eat you alive.

Let’s see if that’s more than talk: Most Americans think we need a third party.

Turns out the Military is a way out of a bad neighborhood in more ways than one: Military schools smack around local schools, particularly when it comes to poor and minority kids. Now if only there weren’t the occupational hazard of being shot at!

You’ve seen my musings: Now here’s Anderson Cooper on traveling.

Turning Japanese: 68% of Japanese cars sold in the U.S. were made here in America, in 29 plants that employ 50,000 people. For reference, “American” car manufacturer GM has roughly 68,000 employees in the United States.

About Time!: 6 Fannie/Freddie execs charged with fraud. They might actually go to prison. There’s another big mortgage fraud suit here in Nevada.

Dim Bulb: One idiot thinks those curly light bulbs are so bad, she says she’s giving incandescent bulbs as Christmas presents. Don’t let her kids anywhere near her car with a carton of eggs.

How does that work?: As condition of a plea bargain, a man had to agree to give up a home he didn’t own and never did own.

And Finally: A boy chokes on a meatball in the school cafeteria. The sad part is that rather than make sure all the staff know CPR, they will probably take meatballs off the school menu.

A Fifth of Amendment

It’s been a long time since I talked about the Bill of Rights. Check out the previous installments: One, Two, Three, *crunch!* Four. Remember, all ten were written by guys who overthrew the legal government. Not that you’ll be learning that in Texas anymore.

The Fifth Amendment is probably the one people know the best, even if they aren’t aware of it. Thanks to almost a half century of police dramas like Dragnet and Law and Order, most people know this:

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you do say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

The actual words in the Fifth Amendment are a little more complicated:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

So let’s pick this apart just a little. First: unless it’s a military matter, you’ve got to have a Grand Jury indictment before you storm off towards a trial. Second: you can’t prosecute somebody for the same thing twice. Third: and this is where Mr. Miranda comes into play — you can’t be made to testify against yourself (hence, “I’m taking the 5th“) or make statements against yourself that will be used as evidence (if you are dumb enough to blather on about how you did it while you are in police custody, it “can and will be used against you”), and moreover they can’t just arrest you or confiscate your stuff just because they feel like it. Finally, they can’t take your stuff “for public use” without paying you.

Asset forfeiture would appear to be pretty clearly not legal under the Fifth Amendment, but some judges said it was just dandy. Somehow “Activist judges” who “legislate from the bench” are only a problem when they do things ultra-conservatives don’t like.

So some very “conservative” people don’t think we should tell certain criminals that they have the right to shut up. That’s because — today at least — the “certain criminals” are terrorists, who under their definition are brown. After all, their logic goes, you never know when they might know about a threat that must be neutralized right away. Lives are at stake every moment they don’t talk! Therefore it is critically important to go all Jack Bauer on their asses immediately if not sooner.*

One must wonder if they would say the same thing if we were talking about nice white Christian terrorists like Tim McVeigh or William Krar.

As I see it, there are two huge problems with changing Miranda. First is the old “slippery slope.” Today it’s terrorists. Tomorrow it’s suspected serial killers. The next day it’s kidnappers or rapists. Pretty soon nobody’s got any rights once they’ve been accused of a felony. And don’t kid yourself, women and minorities would be less likely to be informed that maybe they should shut up and ask for a lawyer. It’s obvious that white boys never break the law, they only have “youthful indiscretions.”

The second problem is that the system we have actually works! The last two terrorists we caught were read their rights, and they were willing to talk to law enforcement anyway! A lot of people choose to give up their right to remain silent for reasons that are their own. There is no need to torture anybody, nor even a need to just shut up about their rights. Since one of the recent terrorists was a naturalized citizen, he might know his Constitutional rights better than some cops.

Seriously. The Fifth Amendment was good enough for guys like Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Ben Franklin, James Madison, and a host of others. It’s good enough for me.

In Closing: Take Your Kids to the Park and Leave Them Day is Saturday; Volcanic Ash Maps; better get used to warmer temperatures (no more laughing about snowstorms “proving” global climate change is a hoax); reaping the whirlwind of Reaganomics; racial wealth gap quadrupled — yes quadrupled — since the 80s (don’t suppose that has anything to do with Reagan?); how important are small businesses to the economy?; Duhpartment of Research finds that reading skills in early grades are critical to academic success later; I could have told them that creative people tend to be a little crazy; oil in the water (and nothing BP does to try and cover up how much there is will change reality); and crazy architecture.

* Did you know that in 2007, an American General personally flew out to Hollywood to ask the producers of 24 to cut the torture and other illegal crap out?