19 August 2006

My First Special Guest Blog

I've got a friend who's a writer and a cop. She works for the CSU division - CSI for you TV viewers. She's been working the graveyard (bad joke in that) shift and sending me the occasional email about her night at work when she gets home in the morning. It's interesting, sometimes gruesome, sometimes funny, sometimes sick-funny stuff. She's given me permission to occasionally use some of her emails here if I want.

I want. I'm going to put them here verbatim. Keep in mind that my friend is a very careful, good, polished writer, but when she sends me these emails it is after a long, hard overnight shift at work. Here's the first one, from yesterday:

Nobility & Nitwits
It was a busy night. We had 5 calls last night, four deaths and one aggravated sexual assault suspect. I had no sooner arrived at the office than the phone rang and we were rolling out on a suicide. This was a stark contrast to the idiot from last week who shot himself after an argument with his wife. Last night's call was about dignity. The gentleman was a 74 year old cancer patient who had just signed up for hospice help. He was on morphine and had asked his wife when he would get his next treatment. She told him that it would be 15 minutes and she went back to clipping coupons. Then she heard the shot. I guess he was tired of waiting.

When we arrived the first thing I noticed was that except for the gaping hole in his head, our complainant was immaculate. There was no nursing home smell, and the house spoke of a lifetime of care. The walls bore evidence of better days, and I couldn't help but note the proud smiles that gazed down at me from old photographs. Yet it was the single item on his dresser that said the most. Dated August 8, of this year, a card was propped open so that our old gentlemen could still read it. Happy Anniversary, 50 years. The oxygen tank stood like silent sentry beside the bed, a necessary, but unwelcome visitor. A partially filled urine container whispered a reminder of the cruel injustices that come with aging. His room told a story, but a bit of gentle probing yielded even more.

I offered to call someone for his wife, but she said that even though she had a daughter, she didn't want her to see him like this, and so she patiently waited until we were through. The bullet blew a gigantic hole through his fragile temple and went out the back to lodge in the pillow behind him. The blood spray on his hand left little doubt that he had fired the gun he still clutched.

Although hidden in the dark, on a trip back through his front yard for my camera, I discovered three of the largest lemon trees I had ever seen. Lemons as large as grapefruits dragged against the branches. Later, a talk with his wife revealed that our gentleman had smuggled the seeds for these trees back from a trip to Mexico. She told me the story, and then grimaced and begged forgiveness when she realized that she'd just spilled the beans, or in this case, the lemons, to the police. Despite the somber circumstances, I had to laugh at her. This earned me a smile.

Every time I walk into someone's home, it speaks for them. This home spoke of a life well lived, with love, care, and dignity.

My next call was to the jail to process a suspect in a high profile aggravated sexual assault case. We had to take DNA cheek swabs and hair samples. This is where your suspect stands naked on a sheet of white butcher paper and you inform him that either he can pluck the samples or you will. This is more effective if you're holding a pair of pliers. The samples must be taken from 5 different spots on the scalp and groin. Lovely mental picture....... And this guy was a real winner. Fortunately, no one had bothered to tell him that he was staring at a life sentence, so he wasn't too much of a problem. Just nasty, and stupid. A class A nitwit...... such a stark contrast from our first call. I wonder what his home looks like.

14 August 2006

Guns and More Guns

Yesterday I went to the Glendale Gun Show. I am not what anyone would call a "gun nut." I don't own any guns, although there was a time when I did. But, I don't have any tattoos either and sometimes I go to tattoo shows. Then again, I find some tattoos kind of sexy. There is nothing sexy about guns. People who think there is, well, they scare me.

There were some scary people at the Glendale Gun Show. But mostly there were a lot of misguided regular folk like my kindly neighbors. The kind of people who think that if they have a gun in their house, they are going to be safer. They think this in defiance of every single statistic that shows they are way more likely to shoot a fellow family member, or the meter reader, or the UPS guy than they are to actually blow away a bad guy trying to break in and do them any harm.

There is that famous slogan: "When guns are banned, only criminals will have guns." It sounds okay at first, but the fact is that criminals kill and wound a whole lot more innocent people with their guns than the other way around. And "innocent" people kill and wound a whole lot more other innocent people with their guns than they do criminals.

I'm sorry, but people without a very specific reason to, and the training to back it up - like, for instance, "a well regulated Militia", as stipulated in the Second Amendment to the Constitution - should not be allowed to own guns. In most "civilized" nations, they aren't. There would be a whole lot fewer dead spouses, children, parents, meter readers and UPS dudes if there were fewer guns in the hands of the public. Cops, just trying to do their job, would be safer. This is particularly true of handguns.

Okay, so in a rural area let people own rifles - not, however, assault rifles. They might need to take out a marauding bear or something, or even fell a buck to fill the freezer with venison. (There oughta be a law though that makes them eat what they kill.)

But pistols just plain make it too plain easy to kill the wrong person. They should be banned for possession by the general public. The ones that are already out there ought to be confiscated.

There was a target for sale at the gun show.

If I'm ever the hostage in this situation, I'm going to feel a whole lot better about it if there's a highly trained cop with a gun trained on the bad guy, than my sweet, well-intentioned, shaky-handed but well-armed neighbors.

As a matter of fact, I worry about where my neighbor's bullets are going to end up if they ever wake up in the middle of the night scared and decide to start shooting. Luckily my bedroom is at the opposite end of my house from theirs. I'm hoping the walls in between will prevent any mistakes.

Most gunshows also have a lot of other stuff for sale. Russian nesting dolls, for some inexplicable reason, seem to be popular; as are a great many little geegaws and doodads. My friend who went with me bought a telescoping, stainless steel dentist's mirror. The guy who sold it to him for two bucks cautioned him, with a wink, to not use it for the purpose of peeking up women's skirts.

There was a table selling an astounding array of right wing bumperstickers. Those people do seem to be afraid of an awful lot of different things. And for "Christians" they don't seem very charitable toward anyone who isn't white, straight, christian and American. It was horrifying to see how many of the bumperstickers longed for the "good old days" of the Confederacy. There were black people in attendance. Some of them were buying guns. Some of them were probably christians. Wonder what they made of that? I was pleased to see that, at least in the time I was there, no one seemed to be buying any of the bumperstickers.

There was some good stuff too. I bought several different types of jerky. I imagine the elk jerky was the product of a hunter with a gun. I don't suppose the beef jerky was. I also bought, I couldn't resist, "The Official Axis of Evil Currency Collection." It was a bargain at twelve bucks. (It came with a bonus Taliban-era Afghani and a current Iraqi Dinar, but they aren't so impressive looking.) Here it is:

So now the guns in Lebanon are supposedly silent. What's been accomplished?
1. The stablilizing, relatively peaceful, increasingly democratic country of Lebanon has been pulverized yet again and set back many years in its development.
2. The democratic, independent government of Lebanon has been severely weakened.
3. Hezbollah has been made to look heroic to people all over the Muslim world and has been strengthened politically in Lebanon.
4. Syria, which had mostly been booted out of Lebanon, has probably regained a great deal of influence.
5. Iran, through Hezbollah, has probably gained more influence in Lebanon and more allies throughout the Middle East.
6. A largely peace loving population that was increasingly showing signs of a willingness to live and let live with Israel has been radicalized. (Having your neighborhood flattened and your children killed will do that to you.)
7. Well over a thousand Lebanese - more than 90 percent of them non-combatants, the majority of them children - have been killed; and over a hundred Israelis.
8. The kidnapped Israeli soldiers haven't been returned. Even if they had, was all the carnage worth it?
9. Gaza has also been pulverized - although that doesn't seem to be getting much attention. That's strengthened the radicals in Hamas and undermined the moderates in the Palestinian authority.
10. Israel is less, not more, secure than it was before because it is now surrounded by people who are even more pissed off and determined to destroy it than they were before, and they're living in less stable places with governments that are less able to function diplomatically or control militant groups within their borders.

What is there to be said about Israel? Can anyone say: Their own worst enemy. (And, of course, the U.S. is happy to assist in Israel's self-destructive actions and policies.)

03 August 2006

The Fallacy of "Corporate" Taxes and What That Has to Do With Campaign Finance Reform

On paper, taxing corporate profits sounds like a good idea. We, individuals, get taxed on our income, why shouldn't companies pay tax on their's? The problem is that in the real world the corporate profits tax is just another sneaky way of taxing us - you and me.

Who do you think pays corporate taxes? We all do. Like every other cost of doing business they are simply factored into the prices that companies charge for their goods and services. And, thanks to simple mathematics, we pay corporate taxes - on behalf of companies - at a higher rate than the companies are charged.

Here's how it works: Acme Widgets makes a pretty good premium DooDad. It costs them one thousand dollars to make, distribute and sell the gizmo. Included in that cost is the physical cost of the materials, worker's salaries, rent, utilities, advertising, insurance, delivery, etc. - and taxes. You don't think they're going to leave out taxes as part of the cost of making their premium DooDad do you? Now Acme's management has decided it wants to make ten percent profit on its premium DooDad, so they charge $1,100 for it.

But now someone comes along and thinks it's a good idea to raise Acme's taxes to pay for something worthwhile. And the great thing is that they'd be raising taxes on a company, not on voters like you and me. So they raise the corporate profit tax rate, say, 0.2 percent. What that means is that Acme now has to pay twenty cents more (0.2% of its $100 profit) to make and sell its premium DooDad. If it wants to maintain its ten percent profit per DooDad, it has to raise the price by 0.22 percent.

But wait, it doesn't stop there. Acme makes its premium DooDad out of aluminium, plastic, oyster shells and polyester thread. It buys the machinery it uses from eight other companies. It buys packaging materials from three different companies. It ships via two different trucking companies and one airline. It pays rent to a company. It uses a law firm and an accounting firm. All of those companies are now paying twenty cents more for each hundred bucks of profit. If they all want to make ten percent - which is not an unreasonable profit margin - they've all got to raise their prices to Acme.

And guess what? Acme passes all those price hikes along to its customers. By the time the smoke clears it is now costing Acme $1,020 to make its DooDads and to maintain its ten percent profit margin it has raised the price to $1,122 per DooDad - a price rise of 0.22 percent to the consumer, caused by a tax hike of 0.2 percent to the company.

Acme's biggest customer buys 10,000 DooDads a year, so that raises their cost of doing business $220,000 per year. What it really raises is your cost of buying from them.

What This Has to Do With Campaign Finance Reform
Here in California there is a proposition (#89) on the November election ballot. It is yet another attempt at campaign finance reform. I'm all for campaign finance reform. I think it's one of the most vital issues in any democracy - especially ours. I'm even willing to pay a little more in taxes to pay for the reforms.

One of the big selling points of the bill is that it will finance its reforms by a 0.2 percent increase in corporate taxes. The supporters of the bill are trying to make voters believe it won't cost them anything because companies are going to pay for it, not them. That's utter bullshit. (See above.)

I support much of what the bill is trying to do and even some of how it's trying to do it. I'll probably vote in favor of it. But I'd appreciate some honesty from time to time. I know there's no free lunch. I can take it. If you want me to help pay for something worthwhile, just ask. Don't try to disguise it as something else.