Monday, March 30, 2009

Senator Webb introduced ground-up prison reform legislation

I hope this legislation get passed—and that it tackles several structural issues that have produced pervasive dry rot in our legal system: 

(1) the job of District Attorney often being an elective office, which gives DA's a powerful incentive to seek victory instead of justice; 

(2) lobbying by the prison guard unions to increase prison populations with disproportionate terms, no rehabilitation, and locking up people we just don't like, such as drug abusers, instead of treating them in the public health system;

(3) the tendency of local government to use the law for revenue enhancement instead of solely focusing on public safety (think red light cameras on left- and right-hand turn lights, which actually increases accidents by causing a sharp increase in rear-enders).

The latest example of DA abuse of power is prosecuting middle school girls for "possession and distribution of child pornography" i.e., they posted racy pictures of themselves on MySpace or similar venues. This is now going on in at least nine states. If convicted, these children--being tried as adults, of course--face prison sentences of up to 17 years, lifetime registration as sex offenders, lifetime disenfranchisement in many states, and also in many states being forbidden for life to go within 2,000 ft. of anywhere children congregate. 

This is insane. Legally we define children as people too young to be held fully responsible for their actions. By treating 14 year old girls as adults we're saying they're old enough to be fully accountable for their actions. But adults can legally distribute racy photographs of themselves. So it's a Catch-22. 

And of course even if the DAs drop the charges after using the girls as an example to scare other children into behaving themselves, what will it do to these 13 and 14 year old girls? At the very least they're spending months terrified of being imprisoned until they're in their mid-30s. I'd be amazed if many of them didn't wind up with post traumatic stress disorder.

But the DAs do it because it shows how tough they are on crime, and because they look at the law to see how many people they can jam into the criminal system. 

And if some DA doesn't do stuff like this you can be sure that next election some opponent will accuse him of being "soft on child porn." Never mind that the "pornographer" is a child herself, taking pictures of herself by herself, posting them on MySpace to impress some boyfriend. 

Societies that sacrifice children to further social goals…hmm…this makes us like the Taliban, who congratulate themselves every time they blow up a school that teaches girls. And like our crusading DA's, the Taliban also say they destroy girls' lives...because they revere girls. That it's "for their own good." 

Becoming like the Taliban—not an ideal I found in my high school civics texts.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

the Morality of Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis used to be dangerous but now we can cure it...right?

Not any more. Now there's a strain that's resistant to most drugs--and a second strain that's currently incurable and kills within weeks.

Where'd these monster TB breeds come from?

The Third World. [The map shows incidence of TB per 100 people, the worst in red, the best gray.]

You see, TB requires taking pills daily for 6-12 months. You feel lots better pretty quickly though. So people stop taking the pills. And within their bodies, where all but a few resistant bacilli have been killed off, a monster is growing that imperils us all.

The people know the doctors told them to keep taking the pills. But they feel better. And remember, these are people who often put more faith in folk medicine than in Western medicine. They might have even gotten a treatment from the witch doctor/curare/etc. at the same time and been pronounced cured by him/her.

The numbers of people dying from--and spreading--hard to cure or incurable strains of TB are proliferating--particularly in areas with an AIDS epimec as well, since AIDS makes people far more prone to get TB in the first place.

Mostly these people stay put in the third world. But some are entering America and other advanced nations that have porous borders, as illegal immigrants. Others are sometimes getting on airplanes and endangering dozens or even hundreds of fellow passengers.

And a recent news item on PBS about this issue said that in South Africa around a quarter of poor people fail to complete their TB treatments. It didn't say whether this cohort was different in any quantifiable way from those who did complete their treatments.

So--this raises both moral and practical issues. On a purely practical basis there's an argument for denying medical treatments to poorly-educated people when the treatments are protracted and those who quit treatment early endanger others--unless those offering the treatment can hospitalize such patients for the duration of their treatment.

But they don't, and as a consequence a group of people trying to bring first world medicine to the third world are completely responsible for developing drug-resistant strains of TB that endanger the rest of the world. They have helped many deserving people. But I doubt that they've considered the price: these human TB time bombs.

Just another example of how much evil in the world is caused by saintly people who only wish to do good. Many do-gooders need to work harder at pondering the long-term consequences of their actions.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Should Speaker of the House Pelosi register as a foreign agent?

Speaker of the House Pelosi (on or close to March 20, 2009), speaking to a group of Mexicans with American citizenship (that is, those who place their ethnic identity above their citizenship):

"Who in our country would not want to change a policy of kicking in doors in the middle of the night and sending a parent away from their families? It must be stopped.
"What value system is that? I think it's un-American."

So if I'm a bank robber, a rapist, an MS13 honcho, Bernie Madoff--or any other kind of crook, in Congresswoman Pelosi's book we can't arrest them as long as they have a domestic partner and/or children living with them.

Then what? We have to wait until the domestic partner and/or children leave or die before we can arrest the crook? 

Of course she meant illegal aliens, not other kinds of criminals. So you could claim I'm taking her out of context. But she didn't qualify her statement when she made it--I'm quoting her verbatim. If you don't want to be taken out of context, put the context into what you say.

And what if she did say what she was doubtless thinking? That once an illegal alien gets into this country and settles down with a domestic partner and/or children, they're home free? That's a big fat carrot to dangle in front of the hundreds of millions of people around the world who'd like to move to America.

Of course ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has stated repeatedly that they're looking for illegal aliens who have comitted felonies, and only sweeping up others in the process of doing so. Pelosi must either think ICE is lying--or that it's OK to be a felon as long as you're an illegal immigrant.

I might feel differently if Pelosi advocated, at the same time, a universal ID system coupled with e-Verify. Or something else to help us control and keep track of who's wandering around within our borders. Do I have to point out that the perpetrators of 9/11 were all illegal aliens? [Some were here on visas but had gotten them under false pretenses, making them illegals as well.]

Every previous amnesty--and there have been several, most recently in 1986--has triggered a tidal wave of illegal immigration across our borders. Pelosi isn't an idiot, so this must be OK with her.

I'm glad I took Spanish in school instead of French, like the other college-bound kids did. Spanish has already become the accepted second language of California--to the extent that people who only speak Spanish can live here comfortably. 

Of course that's fine with Pelosi and her ilk, because they show no respect for the culture that's being displaced by this Hispanic tidal wave. I say "displaced" because when an invasive population gets large enough to support not having to learn the host country's language, they don't assimilate, and their children only do so partially (enormous school dropout rates for the kids of illegals from Mexico and parts south).

The long-term consequence of Pelosi's advocacy is an American Quebec. Talk to the Canadians about how that's worked out for them.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Stem Cells and Religion

Opponents of stem cell research won't tell their real reason for opposing it: they believe God plants a soul in every fertilized ovum at the instant of fertilization.

Otherwise their opposition is nonsensical. But I don't know how they arrive at this believe. There isn't a single verse in the Bible that supports such an idea. No one in Biblical times thought any such thing.

No one thought it until some 19th century Pope interpreted the scientific findings of the time as meaning that God ensouls us at the moment of conception. Then the Catholics sold Protestant Fundamentalists on this novel idea. And now they all act as if Christ's mission on Earth was to stop abortion and stem cell research.

Doesn't anybody read the Bible any more?

Moreover, science has moved on quite a ways from what we knew in 1850. Turns out a fertilized ovum may or may not be a "potential human being." Innumerable fertilized ova and foetuses are spontaneously aborted because either they weren't viable--that is, they had no chance of becoming a human being--or because they were biochemically incompatible with the mother's uterine environment.

Others get born but still have no chance at living much past the point of birth. For example, anencephalic foetuses can be delivered but there's only fluid in their skulls. Again, no potential.

And then what about identical twins? They don't form at conception. Does each get half a soul then? Or what about chimeras, which coalesce out of two fertilized ova? They look perfectly normal but have the DNA and body parts of two different people within themselves. Do they have two souls?

Besides, the biggest source of dead fertilized ova is infertility clinics. When was the last time anti-abortion fanatics marched and prayed in front of such a clinic, or shot the doc who gave so many childless couples hope but "killed" thousands of fertilized ova in the process?

Anyone who thinks God puts souls in human eggs fertilized in a petri dish obviously thinks God is a robot who can't tell a petri dish from a uterus.

They don't give God much credit, do they?

Actually, the "God" they worship is their own warped ideas, which they're too busy listening to to notice the "still, small voice" telling them to do right by actual human beings--some of whom have terrible genetic diseases that stem cell research may one day cure. In which case these opponents of stem cell research are actually serving the Adversary. Ironic, huh?

Red light cameras -- scams or safety devices?

I just had my day in court after getting a red light camera ticket. Here's the sort-of brief I handed the judge, along with copies of several judgments justifying my position:

Re: Case No. XXXXXX  in Superior Court of San Mateo, Southern Branch

People of the State of California vs. Ehkzu


I plead not guilty. I decline to testify. Acting in pro per, however, this is my case:

The city's case against me is based entirely on evidence obtained illegally, because the city's contract with Redflex violates state law by giving Redflex financial incentive to issue more tickets; and while the state law doesn't specify the remedy to this, the U.S. Supreme Court has supported the "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree" principle on several occasions as a fundamental feature of American jurisprudence, obviating the necessity of invoking it explicitly in every law.

While no published appellate ruling currently supports this interpretation of state law vis-à-vis the Redflex contract, several unpublished rulings (appellate and otherwise) support this interpretation and the logic of those rulings could certainly be used by the commissioner in this case. Also, several adverse appellate rulings either do not apply or contravene the "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree" principle, thus running a considerable likelihood of being overturned on appeal. 


California vs. Nagai (case # LA007022PE), Superior Court, Orange County, January 23, 2007 [involving a comparable Redflex contract]:

"In interpreting other statutory language of Vehicle Code Section 21455.5, it has been held that the statute must be construed to ascertain and give effect to the Legislature's intent; and to give the words of the statute their usual and ordinary meaning….Notwithstanding any facts to the contrary, this is a revenue driven pricing system, in direct violation of Vehicle Code section 21455.5(g)(1).

            "Vehicle Code Section 21455.5 is to be strictly construed. The statutory requirements are intended to provide protection to the motorist public, and a conviction cannot result from a violation of its statutory provisions. Accordingly, the defendant in case number LA007022PE must be found not guilty." 

California vs. Franco (case # 30-2008-93057), Appellate Division, Superior Court of California, County of Orange, November 21, 2008:

"Appellant contends evidence from the City of Fullerton's Automated Enforcement System was inadmissible because the City's contract with the camera operator contains a provision tying payment to the operator to revenue generated by the system. This court agrees, and the judgment is reversed…The contract at issue provides for a payment of a flat monthly fee, but also provides that service fees can be negotiated 'down or up, but not to exceed' the monthly rate…NTS has an incentive to ensure sufficient revenue are generated to cover the monthly fee…Because the City's contract with NTZS violated Vehicle Code section 21455.5(g), the trial court erred in admitting evidence from the automated enforcement system." 

Two contrary appellant decisions are often cited in finding against defendants in comparable cases. These are California vs. Brandel (case # CR.A.4548 [Trial Court: 014554 SAGB]), June 3, 2008; and California vs. McDonald (case # BR 04561, No. LC04465), February 23, 2009. 

Neither of these judgments find that the red light camera contracts of the cities involved were legal. They sidestep that issue. Instead, both judgments claim that the legality of the contracts is irrelevant to the cases being considered. 

Such findings flout the "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree" principle first confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Nardone v. United States, 308 U.S. 338, 60 S. Ct. 266, 84 L. Ed. 307 (1939), and then further in Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 83 S. Ct. 407, 9 L. Ed. 2d 441 (1963). 

The "Fruit of the Poisonous" tree doctrine holds that evidence discovered through illegal search or other unconstitutional means may not be introduced by a prosecutor. An illegal contract between a city and a red light camera operator that incentivizes the private, for-profit operator to write more tickets is just such a poison tree. 

Both of these appellate judgments, by excusing governments' illegal conduct, foster disrespect for the law, which has far-reaching effects. I have traveled in countries where the law is for sale and no one in their right mind would go to the police for help unless they belonged to the ruling elite. I don't want that to happen here. Yet red light camera operations are starting to be seen as a sophisticated update of the good old speed trap, due in part to illegal contracts like Menlo Park's one with Redflex systems, compounded by some judicial authorities failing to hold cities accountable for such behavior. In a just system the perpetrator must not be allowed to retain the profits of his illegal conduct. Allowing cities to retain the monies collected from such modern-day "speed traps" violates this principle. 

In the case at hand, the city of Menlo Park was warned prior to signing the contract that its financial provisions contravened state law. It went ahead and signed that contract anyway. So it cannot plead ignorance. 

And in putting a red light camera on a left turn such as the one at Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road, the city perpetrates the image of doing this not for safety but for revenue enhancement. 

Studies conducted by impartial institutions (as opposed to those by the insurance industry, which has a powerful financial incentive involved) show that nearly all accidents caused by red light runners are caused by drivers barreling straight through an intersection—not turning. In fact, installing red light cameras on left turns increases rear end crashes substantially while doing little or nothing to reduce other crashes, since those are caused by drivers going straight through the intersection. 

[I have brought copies of legitimate studies substantiating my assertions, which I’d be glad to provide the court; and I could show in detail why the insurance and red light camera studies are bogus. I have a BA in Sociology from UCLA and am trained in assessing such studies.] 

Moreover, when red light cameras are installed on turns, they're almost always coupled with timing the yellow lights to the state minimum of 3.0 seconds, as is the case for the left turn at Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road. Impartial studies have also proven that increasing the yellow light timing by up to a second or so (depending on the specifics of the intersection) greatly reduces red light infractions, and claims by the insurance industry and the red light camera industry that drivers soon habituate have proven to be wildly exaggerated. Red light running goes up a little over time, but the number of infractions is still several hundred percent lower than when the light timing is set to the shortest time the city can get away with.

 There is no safety justification for using red light cameras on turns coupled with as-short-as-legally-possible yellow light timing. The only justification is revenue. And using law enforcement as a profit center is exactly what the moral hazard of incentivized red light camera contracts leads to.

Moreover, nearly half the monies collected from such red light camera traps goes out of state, and much of that out of country (since Redflex is an Australian company0. City government profits immediately, but that money comes out of citizens' discretionary income, and will not be spent on local businesses. This in turn decreases taxes paid to city government.

 Red light cameras used to improve safety, applied to drivers going straight through intersections, coupled with reasonable yellow light timing—not "what can I get away with" timing—is probably a good thing, as long as the operation is conducted above reproach—starting with using legal contracts. 

But using red light cameras primarily for revenue is immoral, corrupting, and ultimately self-defeating. There's a reason why California bans speed traps. I predict that eventually we'll get state Supreme Court rulings that will prove extremely costly for the 20 cities using illegal contracts—and we'll get state laws that force cities to use red light cameras for safety enhancement instead of as a hidden tax on motorists. 

Two additional points: researchers in Florida found that red light cameras coupled with short yellow light timing were particularly difficult for elderly drivers, causing an inordinate amount of infractions and accidents instead of improving safety. Their reflexes aren't up to the demands placed on them by short yellow lights. 

And I have found that as a reasonably fit bicyclist I often find myself facing oncoming traffic that has a green light while I'm still crossing an intersection, even when I start across promptly when the light turns green. Stoplight timings are based on the reflexes and mobility of a 30 year old driver in a late-model car. Bicyclists and the elderly are on their own. 

Instead of churning innumerable citizens through a red light camera operation for money, Menlo Park should be focusing on improving road safety and getting its revenue through legitimate means.