Archive for February, 2005

The Courts, the California prison experiment and the Y Chromosome (February 28, 2005)

Posted in Law, Politics, Prison/Criminology, Race, Supreme Court on February 28, 2005 by

California has tried with courage and innovation to do something about the problem of prison violence in its state prisons.  The Ninth Circuit said they did an acceptable job.  The Supreme Court recently dissented.

The state of California established a practice of providing a short-term delay before integrating a new or newly transferred inmate into the prison population.  The practice was not motivated by malice toward anyone and was undertaken with as much charity toward all as possible.  The practice was undertaken to protect the prisoner.

Mr. R. P. McMurphy, the philosopher and sports enthusiast in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” observed that males really want to do two things in life – fight and write poetry.  This is known among well meaning social scientists and cultural anthropologists as the “F & F passions” or “F2 Passions.”  Cage a bunch of misfits and rascals and cattle rustlers and others who lacked an older, strong male influence in their youth and you will find that males revert to their atavistic pursuits.

California tried to abate the pastimes in the American prison system that make the Skull & Bones antics at abu Ghraib prison look like a Sunday school camping trip.  Republican jurispruds seek to outlaw consensual anal sex among males and also impose it on unconsenting males; those who violate the Republican prohibition will be sent to prison immediately.  Reducing the violence in America’s prison is problematic, but it is a problem that requires much more public attention.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the “Wild West Circuit” or the “Niners,” is the largest (case load, population, geography, lattes and lassoes) and most entertaining of the federal courts of appeals.  The circuit encompasses the state-nation of California and other blue states (Washington, Oregon, Hawaii) that are part of the Western Province of the Blue Nation.  Some red states are members (Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada); the bottom half of the class makes the top half possible.  Decisions of the Niners are appealed to the Big Court, the Supreme Court, the “Supremes.”  The Niners and the Supremes have a running institutional hissy fit.  At times, there has been more talent and insight and understanding on the Niners than on the Supremes.  Even per capita.  However, the Supremes have the last say.

The thing involves Race, so things got dicey.  America is still desperately and frantically trying to figure out what to do with the R issue.  When matters involving R arise, all logic and clear thinking often goes to hell.

The forces of light (O’Connor, Ginsburg, Souter, Breyer and Kennedy) wrote the majority but flawed opinion for the Supremes.  Two years earlier, some of these justices were willing to grant deference to a graduate school of law (the University of Michigan Law School) but this year not to a graduate school of crime (the California criminal justice system).  The California criminal justice system is one of the affiliates of the criminal American justice system.  The majority stated that “[i]n the prison context, when the government’s power is at its apex, we think that searching judicial review of racial classifications is necessary to guard against invidious discrimination.”  In the prison context, the government’s power, however, is at its nadir.  The government does deny an individual his liberty interest.  However, the prisoners run the prison.  Commentators have remarked recently that the number of former convicts on the Supremes who could share their insights is at an all time low.

Justice Stevens reacted rather than reflecting by proposing a wooden rule.  The Dynamic Duo (Thomas and Scalia) contended that “[t]he Constitution has always demanded less within the prison walls.”  The Constitution must demand more within the prison walls.  The Constitution does not preclude the efforts and innovation undertaken by the California system.

The case has been shipped back to the Niners.  They should do the legal dance and allow lengthy briefing and conduct a protracted and windy oral argument.  After taking the matter under advisement and waiting long enough to raise the excitement to a crescendo, they should issue a lengthy treatise with enough footnotes to make it look like a completed crossword puzzle.  The decision should find that “gang violence and rape in prisons are bad; gang violent and rape in prisons should be abated; California’s practice of short-term delayed integration into the prison population has been strictly scrutinized; California’s practice advances the goal of abating gang violence and rape and therefore passes searching strict judicial scrutiny.”  Despite all the institutional and individual impediments, clear thinking may prevail.

Johnson v. California, No. 03-636.

Celebrating Malcolm X Day (February 21, 2005)

Posted in Politics, Race, Society on February 21, 2005 by

Malcolm  X – A twentieth century political philosopher and champion of civil rights.  He embraced faith-based initiatives and encouraged private sector activism to advance family values and oppose the most extensive and dangerous network of terrorist cells ever to occupy American soil and terrify the countryside.  Died of natural causes in America; he was killed.  Someday he will receive a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts to promote freedom.

V Day (February 14, 2005)

Posted in Society on February 14, 2005 by

“All of my single friends want to be married, and all of my married friends want to be single,” she observed.  “It should be called Singles Awareness Day or Married Awareness Day,” she continued.  “In this life you will find that there are times when you are interested in someone, and he is not interested in you.  And there are times when someone is interested in you, and you are not interested in him.  How you handle both situations says just about everything about you,” her aunt opined avuncularly.  “If you want to make the gods laugh, share your plans with them.  Life is what happens to you while you are making plans,” her uncle said to her intimating that she not say uncle.  “Bloom where you are potted.”

[The following is added in July, 2009 and is inserted nunc pro tunc:

Bumper stickers of the week:

“Marriage is like a cage; one sees the birds outside desperate to get in, and those inside desperate to get out.”        Michel de Montaigne, the creator of the essay.

“I’m the guy who didn’t marry pretty Pamela Brown

Educated, well-intentioned good girl in our town.

I wonder where I would be today is she had loved me too

Probably be driving kids to school.”

. . .

“Pamela Brown” by Tom T. Hall © 1971 Hallnote Music/BMI or Sony/ATV Acuff Rose Music]

The Microeconomics of Suburban Subsistence (February 7, 2005)

Posted in Economics, Housing on February 7, 2005 by

[Thirty-six (36) Senators voted to reject the nomination of the legal architect of torture; there is hope.]

Seven years ago at the age of 30 the prospect of paying off a 30 year mortgage was incomprehensible, so they did not comprehend it.  She liked it, the kids liked it, the dogs liked it.  $150,000 was a lot of pizza and beer but with a few sacrifices not much more than the monthly rental payments.  Empty photocopy paper boxes still served well as end tables.  Seven years have passed; seven summers, with the length of seven long winters. They are finally retiring some of the interest obligation and will retire the mortgage before they retire at age 65.  They don’t expect to be able to retire until the house is paid for.

The news states that the value of the place has gone up and interest rates have come down.  $250,000, for the bungalow?  But the equity was just sitting there.  A friend who is a broker provides a broker’s opinion of value (BOV) for $275,000; the friendly bank provides the money.  They are now seven years older paying more on the place for another 30-year sentence.  67 isn’t all that old.

For what?  Some of the money pays off credit card debt which is not what the homebuilding industry intended when they constructed the mortgage interest deduction.  The couple’s decision is rational to the extent that the interest payments for the mortgage are deductible, whereas the interest payments for the credit card debt for his beer and her shoes are not.  Someone once observed that one should never ever ever ever ever ever ever finance something for longer than its useful life.  His beer has a useful life of one night and her shoes have a useful life of a fortnight.  They do not even sell replacement shoestrings for women’s shoes.  Those living on a shoestring budget discover that credit cards are the crack cocaine of the middle class.  An over-leveraged mortgage is its Methadone.  Methadone cures one addiction and creates another.

The news states that his company is downsizing.  Everyone hates his job except when he does not have one; how he loved the job he hated.  Life was never “easy come, easy go,” but “hard come, easy go” worked while he worked.  They say there may be some rehires in two months, but they are two paychecks away from bankruptcy.  If they skip the mortgage payment for a month or two, they can buy more time.  The foreclosure process takes three months anyway.  Another credit card solicitation arrived with today’s bills.  The problem and the recent solution are delivered in the same box.  The finance company won’t repossess three-year old furniture with negligible salvage value; caller id allows them to continue ducking the calls from the collection agency.  He had the better health care plan; she opted for the better retirement plan with her company.  It worked so well when it worked.  Little Egbert is not well.  Loss of a job, an illness not covered by health insurance, and divorce are the three horses of the suburban apocalypse.  The Surgeon General has determined that unemployment can lead to illness.  Unemployment and illness tax a marriage.  Taxes and money issues really tax a marriage.  All three horses are chomping at the bit.

The news states that the company is taking an extended overseas vacation.  Housing prices drop 30 percent in the community.  The estate is now worth $175,000 on a good day.  Why continue paying off a $275,000 note on a $175,000 house?  The adjustable-rate mortgage (“arm”) sounded good at the time, but with rising interest rates it now has them in a headlock.  An “arm” could be a shorthand word for “costs an arm and a leg.”  And the rising interest rates drive up the actual cost of a $175,000 house to the few otherwise curious buyers.  Why not return the keys and rent a place?  Last year’s thought that the equity in the house might be part of the overall retirement plan is quaint and distant.

Home ownership is one of life’s joys.  Home ownership is part of “the pursuit of happiness” even if the roof, the faucet and the foundation leak.  This piece is intended to be analytical rather than judgmental.  Who is at fault and what to do is another concern.  Our friends in Suburbia are under “economic house arrest.”  Visiting them in six months may not be pretty.

Ontogeny tends to recapitulate phylogeny, they say.  These economic decisions are also the core of the current business plan guiding the Republican government.