you have the right to remain silent, and you'd better use it.

Posted on: Tue, 02/15/2011 - 22:47 By: Tom Swiss

For years I've been passing on the message that, even if you are 100% innocent of wrongdoing, the only things you say to a cop (outside of a purely social interaction, of course, or when filing a complaint yourself), are "Am I free to go?" and "I want a lawyer." In this great video, Professor James Duane explains why Fifth Amendment protections are so vital and why you should not talk to the police, even when you've done absolutely nothing wrong.

Did you know that nothing you say to a cop can be used as evidence in your favor in court -- that's considered hearsay -- but everything you say can used against you? Did you know how even things that seem completely innocuous or exculpatory can be used against you in court? Watch the video. It's 27 minutes and 25 seconds that could keep you out of big trouble. (It's also worth watching the next part of this presentation, with Officer George Bruch from the Virginia Beach police department talking about criminal interrogation strategies.)

original intent, health care mandates, and federal power over the states

Posted on: Fri, 02/11/2011 - 21:44 By: Tom Swiss

I recently discussed how the "original intent" doctrine of Constitutional interpretation is intellectually bankrupt, leading as it does to contradiction since the intent of the Framers was that their intent not be used as a guide to the document. But it's unlikely that this idea is going to go away soon. So it's perhaps worthwhile -- and definitely interesting, even entertaining -- to take a look at the opinions of the Framers on two issues that currently cause a lot of pettifoggery, health care mandates and "state's rights". When we do, we see that (as usual) the people invoking the names of the Framers the loudest, have got those gentlemen's opinions exactly wrong.

First, health care. Now, I am not a fan of the mandate to purchase health insurance. I think that, without the public option, it's a bad policy. But "bad policy" is not the same as "unconstitutional". Do we have some historical insight into what the Framers might have thought about the federal government messing with the "free market" by mandating that people buy health insurance?

As it happens, we do.

Congratulations Egypt!!!!!

Posted on: Fri, 02/11/2011 - 12:56 By: Tom Swiss

According to the AP, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has finally resigned, and handed power to the military, the group probably most respected by the Egyptian people. The top military body, the Armed Forces Supreme Council, has vowed to guide the nation towards democracy.

This is an amazing moment not just for the people of Egypt but for human rights and democracy.

This is how democracy comes about -- not brought into a nation by invaders, but grown from the roots up by the people.

Congratulations to the people of Egypt.

Federal taxes at a 60-year low

Posted on: Tue, 02/08/2011 - 22:45 By: Tom Swiss

As I've mentioned before, the "American are overtaxed!" meme is counter-factual. In fact, as the AP reports, this year federal taxes as a share of GDP -- 14.8% -- will be the lowest since 1950. In W's last year in office, the figure was 17.5%.

Combine the ever-growing deductions, credits and exemptions (which lower the effective tax rate) with the crappy economy (which lowers the amount out there to tax) and, according to the CBO, income tax payments will be nearly 13% percent lower than in 2008, and corporate taxes will be lower by a third.

As the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Ken Conrad, says, "The current state of the tax code is simply indefensible. It is hemorrhaging revenue."

And even Donald Marron, a former economic adviser to Bush, says "America's tax system is clearly broken. It fails at its most basic task, which, lest we forget, is raising enough money to pay for the federal government."

The AP had The Tax Institute at H&R Block compared some hypothetical family's tax bills for 2008 and 2010. While tax rates are the same, Obama has put in place more generous tax credits -- many as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package.

Here are the scenarios:

— A married couple with two young children and a combined income of $25,000 will pay no federal income taxes for 2010. Instead, they'll get a payment of $7,085 — up from $6,700 in 2008...

— A married couple with two children, including one in college, and a combined income of $50,000 would pay no federal income taxes, instead getting a payment of $734 from the government this year. However, they did better in 2008 when they netted a $1,234 payment from the government...

— A single person making $50,000 while paying interest on a student loan would have a 2010 tax bill of $5,325 — a $63 decrease from 2008...

— A married couple with two children, including one in college, with some modest investments and a combined income of $200,000 will see their federal income tax bill drop by $780, to $28,496...

-A rich couple with two kids in college, larger investments and a combined income of $1 million will see their taxes drop by $6,740, to $277,699 in 2010...

Fred Korematsu Day

Posted on: Sun, 01/30/2011 - 15:27 By: Tom Swiss

Today -- and every January 30th from now on -- is officially recognized as "Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution" in California, the first time in U.S. history that an Asian-American has been so honored.

If you're asking, "Who's Fred Korematsu?" then take that as evidence of the way that this nation still has not dealt with one of its most shameful acts, the internment of 110,000 innocent people of Japanese ancestry during WWII. (As an aside, the Census Bureau provided the U.S. Secret Service with information to help with the round-up -- something to consider when deciding how much of your census form to complete.)

In 1942, 22-year-old welder Fred Korematsu refused to go gently along to a concentration camp, and was arrested. In 1944, in perhaps the most disgusting Supreme Court decision of the 20th century, his "disloyalty" conviction and confinement were upheld.

After fighting the power for over forty years, Korematsu finally won exoneration in 1983 when a federal judge overturned his conviction for resisting internment. In 1988 the U.S. government finally made an official apology to internees and made a (wholly inadequate) payment of $20,000 to each surviving victim.

In 1998, President Clinton bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Korematsu.

Egypt shuts down Internet access

Posted on: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 21:47 By: Tom Swiss

Woody Guthrie used to have the words "This Machine Kills Fascists" on his guitar. I've often thought that that would be a fine sticker to put on Internet-connected computers. The free flow of information is anathema to authoritarians.

Need proof? Reports are coming in that Egypt has shut down all internet access, as protests continue against the U.S.-backed regime of Hosni Mubarak.

That, I think, is pretty much a sign that the cat is out of the bag, and that this regime's days are numbered. (The question, though, it whether what replaces it will be better...)

Utah (or Pennsylvania) may designate a "state gun"

Posted on: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 10:46 By: Tom Swiss

Most states have official designated state flowers, state birds, and so on. Sometimes the "official state whatever" designations can get odd; Massachusetts has the corn muffin as its official state muffin, the slinky is the official state toy of Pennsylvania, and North Carolina has designated clogging as that state's official folk dance.

Now Utah is may become the first state with an official state gun, the Browning M1911; the Utah House passed this designation yesterday. (The state's Senate still has to vote on the measure.)

There's no question that the M1911 is a classic design. Also known as the Colt 1911 or Colt .45 ACP (Colt being the leading manufacturer of Browning's design), it was the standard-issue side arm for the U.S. armed forces from 1911 to 1985, is still carried by some units, and remains a very popular civilian gun. And it heavily influenced later semi-automatic handgun designs. It probably is appropriate for the state to honor the Utah-born inventor, John Browning, behind the design; and indeed it seems they already have a "John M. Browning Day".

But, not surprisingly, coming only weeks after the Tucson shooting, the designation has kicked up controversy. State Representative Carol Moss noted during floor debate that the primary audience for official state designations is school kids. The designation of a state gun "seems insensitive at this time when people are mourning the death of six people in Tucson and the serious wounding of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords – a friend of mine," Moss said.

Opponents of the bill suggested that a statue of Browning might be a better way to honor him, but State Representative Carl Wimmer, the bill's sponsor, said that a state designation made more sense because it wouldn't cost any money.

If Utah doesn't pass an official state gun bill, Pennsylvania may become the first state to do so, with a bill to make the eighteenth-century Pennsylvania long rifle an official state symbol. Since the Pennsylvania long rifle was a muzzle-loading flintlock, unlikely to be encountered today, I suspect this would generate much less controversy.

I am a gun owner and a supporter of the right to keep and bear arms. But on the other hand, I fully agree with Lao Tzu: "Weapons are instruments of ill omen; they are not the instruments of the princely man, who uses them only when he needs must." In this imperfect world in which we dwell, weapons are tools that are sometimes necessary, but we ought to be very careful about celebrating or glorifying them.

Texas proposal to kill all pit bulls

Posted on: Sun, 01/16/2011 - 12:22 By: Tom Swiss

Texas is supposed to be a tough, rugged state. But apparently someone like me might be just too tough for Texas. Why? Because I live with a pit bull mix, while Texas Senator Kevin Eltife and Representative Chuck Hopson are set to sponsor a bill pushed by attorney and former state district judge Cynthia Stevens Kent to make "ownership" of pit bull type dogs a felony -- meaning, basically, "kill all pits".

Of course any fatal dog bite is a tragic thing. But according to an oft-miscited study by the the Centers for Disease Control, "Fatal attacks represent a small proportion of dog bite injuries to humans and, therefore, should not be the primary factor driving public policy concerning dangerous dogs. Many practical alternatives to breed-specific ordinances exist and hold promise for prevention of dog bites." The push for breed-specific laws is based on several selection biases -- people who want viscous dogs are more likely to select certain breeds, leading other to become paranoid that these breeds are inherently vicious. Over the years German Shepards, Dobermans, and Rottweilers have been the target of this phenomenon.

If you live in Texas, please write your representatives in opposition to this attempt to exterminate innocent dogs. I thank you, and Ringo thanks you.

open letter to Fandimo: merchandise with terrorist logos

Posted on: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 18:02 By: Tom Swiss

Ohms Gifts Inc.
13724 Prairie Ave
Hawthorne, California 90250

Dear Fandimo:

While searching eBay for a new business card case, I noticed that your store carried several models of what seemed to be quality products at good prices. After some comparison, I was all set to make a purchase from you -- until I found this:


I fully support the right of free speech, and would oppose any effort to legally restrict what images or logos might appear on the products you sell. However, I will not do business with a company that features products promoting the logos of violent terrorist organizations -- and that includes the anti-American, pro-slavery nineteenth-century terrorist organization that styled itself the "Confederate States Of America."

This product is not only offensive to the millions of Americans who are the descendants of the slaves that the "Confederacy" fought to keep shackled, it is offensive to every American who understands history.

Again, I support your legal right to choose the products that you offer. But I wanted you to know why you lost my business, and why I will be urging others to take their business elsewhere.

Very truly yours,

Tom Swiss

Ee'd Plebnista, the Tea Party, Scalia, and "original intent"

Posted on: Tue, 01/04/2011 - 21:32 By: Tom Swiss

In the Star Trek (original series) episode "The Omega Glory", Kirk, Spock, and the gang find a planet inhabited by two warring tribes, the "Yangs" and the "Kohms". It turns out that these tribes are devolved remnants of American -- "Yanks" -- and Asian Communist -- "Comms" -- societies.

(Are the Kohms Chinese? Vietnamese? Korean? It's left as an unspecified yellow peril. And how did these tribes get there? Presumably either from Earth via an early space colonization effort, or by the same sort of parallel planetary evolution that gave us a planet with a technologically sophisticated Roman Empire in another episode. They never say, and it's really not important to this anvilicious tale.)

One of the chief holy relics of the Yangs is a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Problem is, the Yangs are an illiterate tribe, with no idea what the Constitution says or means. They refer to the Constitution as the "Ee'd Plebnista" (some sources render this as "E Pleb Neesta" or "E Plebnista") -- their butchered rendering of "We The People", the opening words of that document. Kirk proves to the Yangs that God is on his side by emerging victorious in single combat, and then endeavors to set them straight about The American Way, telling them "That which you call Ee’d Plebnista was not written for the chiefs or the kings or the warriors or the rich and powerful, but for all the people!...These words and the words that follow were not written only for the Yangs, but for the Kohms as well!...They must apply to everyone or they mean nothing!" You can probably picture the Shatner delivery even if you've never seen the episode.

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