Monday, January 30, 2023

Police brutality caught on video in Memphis

 Over the weekend, disturbing evidence of police brutality reared its ugly head once again. Several videos of the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police officers was made public and what they showed was shocking.

The videos are from multiple sources including police body-mounted cameras and a pole-mounted camera view. The footage shows officers violently pulling Nichols from his car after he was stopped for allegedly driving recklessly. Now, even the validity of the stop is in question.

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“We’ve taken a pretty extensive look to determine what that probable cause was and we have not been able to substantiate that,” Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said on Friday. “It doesn’t mean that something didn’t happen, but there’s no proof.”

As the officers pull Nichols from the car, they scream at him to “Get on the ground!” and he initially complies. As officers continue to restrain him, he gets up and runs as the officers shoot tasers and pepper spray at him.

Several officers chased Nichols down about 800 meters away from the initial stop. When they catch him, the officers repeatedly hit and kick Nichols. The beating lasted for about three minutes. Afterward, a handcuffed Nichols was propped against a police car. He was largely ignored and no one rendered aid until about 40 minutes later.

Nichols was taken to the hospital after he complained of shortness of breath. He died there on January 10, about two days after the beating on the evening of January 7. The BBC reported that the preliminary findings by a forensic pathologist listed the cause of death as “extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.”

Those are the facts. Another fact is that there is no excuse for the actions of the officers who literally beat Nichols to death.

These videos provide some insight into why so many people, particularly black Americans, are frightened of police. We’ve seen a great many examples of overzealous and aggressive officers who give black drivers good reason to fear for their lives, yet this is not just a race-related incident.

The officers who killed Nichols were also black. The problem isn’t white cops assaulting a black motorist. The problem is a more basic issue of police brutality that transcends race.

I’ve written in the past about other incidents of police brutality that include white victims. One of those was Daniel Shaver, an innocent man whose killing at the hands of a police officer was captured in another sickening body camera video. The officer who shot and killed Shaver in 2016 was acquitted and subsequently rehired by the Mesa, Arizona Police Department.

There are elements of a race problem, but what we really have is a policing problem. All too often, officers in these incidents approach their victims in a high-intensity manner than is calculated to frighten and shock criminals into compliance and can instill panic in law-abiding citizens. Panicked people can do stupid things, especially when officers start pointing guns at them or beating them with batons.

When panicked people do stupid things, like running away or resisting, it then gives the officers a reason to escalate the encounter. The perp is disobeying, resisting, and trying to flee. The officer now has reason to fear for his life and a legal rationale to kill the citizen and completely escape punishment.

I’m not in favor of defunding the police, but we do need police reform. One of the first reforms that I would make is to give police officers better training on how to de-escalate potentially violent situations.

Why is it that police negotiators will talk calmly and rationally to an armed hostage-taker, but patrolmen will pull their weapons and start yelling at motorists in a traffic stop, telling them they are going to “ride the lightning” because they didn’t pull over quickly enough?

I think that there are a couple of answers to that question. One is that the negotiator has been trained to calm the situation rather than inflame it. He doesn’t want the hostage-taker to panic and do something stupid that could get a lot of people killed.

A second reason is that hostage-takers are presumed to be armed and motorists are not, although they very well could be. This makes the traffic cops edgy and frightened. These emotions, together with being inadequately trained, sometimes combine to make the officers panic and do stupid things.

A third reason, I believe, is that some cops are just unsuited to the job. Some cops don’t want to be cops. They’d rather be combat troops, which also involves guns and violence, but is a completely different mission. As Rush Limbaugh used to say, the mission of the military is to “kill people and break things.” On the other hand, the mission of the police is to prevent people from being killed and things from being broken. To protect and serve.

Some cops are bad apples who are on power trips. Sometimes putting on a uniform and a gun and the authority that they imply goes straight to the head. Sometimes police officers become bullies. It looks as though the officers in Memphis fit into this category.

So how is it that we get so many situations where people like Tyre Nichols, who now seems to be a totally innocent motorist, are pulled out of their cars and beaten to death or shot and killed like Daniel Shaver, who was minding his own business in his hotel room?

I can think of several reasons. When it becomes hard to recruit police, standards go down. People who shouldn’t be police end up getting hired. Once hired, it can be hard to get rid of bad apples.

The police officer who killed Shaver did it with an AR-15 that was etched with the words, “You’re F-cked.” To me, that paints a picture of a person who may want to shoot someone and could look for any excuse to do so.

All too often there is also a lack of accountability. With several of the incidents of the past few years caught on video by cameras worn by the officers involved, I have to ask myself why any cop would beat an innocent man to death in the knowledge that a camera worn on his chest was recording the crime. The answer seems to be that they are so used to doing what they do that they don’t think about the camera.

That begs the question of how many innocent people were beaten and/or killed by police in the days before body cameras or cell phone video. I have to assume that police quite often got away with murder on the grounds that someone resisted or tried to escape. How many more beatings had the Scorpions of the Memphis PD handed down before they killed Tyre Nichols?

Any discussion of police accountability has to include the subject of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that protects government officials from lawsuits when they violate the rights of citizens unless those rights were “clearly established.” While qualified immunity only applies in civil cases, it makes it difficult to hold the police accountable if their actions are short of criminal. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will overturn this horrible precedent someday soon.

And what of the cops who don’t bully the citizens they are supposed to protect? Most cops are good cops, but too often the good cops accept the behavior of bad cops. Good cops should be given more tools to root out the bullies and criminals in their midst.

Police should be empowered to follow an honor code similar to that of the Air Force Academy:

We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, (so help me God).

Police officers need to be expected to not only follow the law and rules themselves but to hold their brother officers accountable. In the end, it isn’t those who report the bad behavior of dirty cops that undermines faith in the police. Instead, it is the bad cops who make innocent citizens fear for their lives.

Tyre Nichols's death was tragic and all the more so because it did not have to happen. Statistically, this sort of thing doesn’t happen often, but we should not accept that it has to happen at all.

That also doesn’t mean that I advocate for violence. I’m glad that the protests in the wake of Nichols’s death have been peaceful, (there seemed to be more violence in Philadelphia during and after the Eagles’ playoff victory yesterday) but if ever a peaceful protest was needed, it is now. The system needs to change and voters need to get the attention of Congress and state legislatures.

To say that police should not pull people from their cars and beat them to death should not be controversial. It also should not be controversial to acknowledge that the system needs to be reformed.

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PAUL PELOSI VIDEO: In other video news, a San Francisco judge ordered the release of several videos detailing the attack on Paul Pelosi last October. The videos show David DePape breaking into the Pelosi residence and violently attacking Nancy Pelosi’s husband when confronted by police.

DePape, who has pled not guilty, has previously admitted to targeting Nancy Pelosi in a hostage plot and planning to attack others such as Gavin Newsome and Hunter Biden.

DePape spoke with a local television station, KTVU, on Friday and apologized that his attack was not successful.

"I want to apologize to everyone,” DePape said. “I messed up. What I did was really bad. I'm so sorry I didn't get more of them. It's my own fault. No one else is to blame. I should have come better prepared."

The incident was characterized in various ways by a multitude of right-wing personalities. Some called it a homosexual tryst or drug deal gone bad. The videos disprove those conspiracy theories and the Seattle Times has helpfully created a graphic that shows who you definitely should not listen to in the future.

USAF GENERAL’S WAR WARNING: The four-star general commanding the Air Mobility Command issued a memo warning his troops that he sees war with China likely in 2025.

Gen. Mike Minihan, who I am pretty sure was the guest speaker at my son’s graduation from Basic Military Training last year, said, “I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025. Xi secured his third term and set his war council in October 2022. Taiwan’s presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a reason. United States’ presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a distracted America. Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025.”

I hope he’s wrong as well, but the world’s focus on Ukraine and the depletion of many stocks of weapons and ammunition do give China an opportunity to make a move on Taiwan.

The best way to avert a war is to be prepared for it and to let the enemy know that you are prepared. I think that was Gen. Minihan’s intention, but I can guarantee you that there will be no war with China unless China starts it.

From the Racket News

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Is the "national sales tax" bill Fair?

 One of the newest discussions online revolves around a proposed Republican bill that would drastically change the federal tax structure. Many Democrats, such as Elizabeth Warren in this tweet, are claiming that the proposal represents a 30-percent tax hike through the implementation of a national sales tax. That is partly true, but these claims don’t tell the whole story.

What is being proposed isn’t just a national sales tax, although that is part of the plan. The full proposal is much more broad, repealing the national income tax and other forms of federal taxation and abolishing the IRS, replacing the current tax system with a consumption tax. The package of tradeoffs has actually been around for about three decades and is called the Fair Tax.

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I first became aware of the Fair Tax when I was living in Atlanta and listening to Neal Boortz’s talk show on WSB. I was intrigued enough to look into the details of the plan and write two articles about the proposal for my blog in 2011.

I didn’t think much about the Fair Tax for the next 12 years or so, but suddenly the idea is back in the news in a big way. There is a lot of talk online about the Republican “national sales tax” proposal and Democrats are hammering Republicans for what they say is a gift to the rich at the expense of the poor.

So what’s the truth?

Let’s start at the beginning. The Fair Tax has been proposed in Congress in the past, but the new bill was sponsored by Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) and seems to stem from one of Kevin McCarthy’s secret deals with the Freedom Caucus that enabled him to finally garner enough votes to become Speaker. Apparently, McCarthy agreed to allow a vote on the Fair Tax in exchange for votes for the speakership. There is definitely overlap between Carter’s original cosponsors and the anti-McCarthy holdouts that include Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), Bob Good (R-Va.), Scott Perry (R-Pa.), and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.).

The Fair Tax Act of 2023 begins by repealing the federal income tax, payroll taxes, estate taxes, and gift taxes. The bill would also begin the process to repeal the 16th amendment which established the federal income tax. These taxes would be replaced by a consumption tax of “23 percent of the gross payments for the taxable property or service” in 2025. A formula is detailed to calculate the rate for subsequent years. This tax would be levied on the end users of goods and services and not business-to-business transactions.

While 23 percent seems high, Fair Tax proponents point out that it replaces taxes that are embedded in our current pricing structure. In theory, there would be little change in the end cost, but I’d like to see a CBO score on the proposal that includes both the effect on pricing and federal revenues.

On the other hand, critics say the true rate is higher than 23 percent. As the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) explains, the tax on a $100 purchase would actually be $130 instead of $123. The “gross payment” would include both the cost of the item and the tax, so the tax is figured in a backward sort of way. Twenty-three percent of the gross payment of $130 is $29.90. That would be the tax paid on a $100 purchase.

There are some exceptions built in as well. One that I noticed was that the sales tax would be levied in addition to import duties. Tariffs are one tax that won’t be going away under the Fair Tax.

But wait! There’s more.

Each person is allowed a monthly credit that can be calculated in a variety of ways, and there is also a Family Consumption Allowance that pays families a monthly rebate up the federal poverty level. These mechanisms are used to offset an increase in taxes for low-income families.

As of 2022, the federal poverty level was $13,590 for an individual or $27,750 for a family of four. Using the these numbers, the monthly payment for individuals would be $1,133 and $2,313 for the family of four. As you might guess, paying these rebates out to every American family every month would require a staggering outlay. To Fair Tax proponents, this is a bit like priming a pump to start the flow of water.

Another key point in the Fair Tax plan is that used goods are excluded from taxation. This provision would be a boon to the poor because they would be able to buy used cars, clothes, furniture, and anything else tax-free. This aspect of the plan makes the Fair Tax much more progressive than a typical sales tax, which often carries a high burden for low-income consumers.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Fair Tax is that taxation largely becomes voluntary. If you choose not to buy new items, you pay no tax. That’s a libertarian’s dream.

Of course, we can’t avoid buying new items in all cases. For example, there is not a large market for used food. If there was, it would be disgusting. That’s where the Family Consumption Allowance comes in.

The Family Consumption Allowance was called the “prebate” in the original Fair Tax plan and would allow poor families to receive a monthly payment that would cover the cost of the tax on necessities. In essence, the idea is to make the tax neutral on the low-income end of the scale unless these people choose to purchase new items.

A major selling point is how the Fair Tax would affect the economy at large. Proponents argue that streamlining the tax code would encourage growth and stimulate the economy. As the economy grows and wealth is created, people would buy more new goods and services and more tax revenues would be collected.

Even though I'm somewhat versed in the details of the Fair Tax, I don’t consider myself to be an advocate. The plan is intriguing, but I’m skeptical that it would replace all the revenue generated by all the other assorted federal taxes.

Back in 2007, looked at the Fair Tax plan and noted that the bipartisan Advisory Panel on Tax Reform had concluded that a 34-percent tax-exclusive rate would have been required to be revenue-neutral. That number was in the middle between estimates of 39.3 percent rate by the Brookings Institution and the 31.2 percent rate calculated by Boston University economist and Fair Tax proponent Laurence Kotlikoff.

These assumptions need to be rechecked under the new proposal because, as much as I dislike taxes, we don’t need to reduce revenues at a time when the US national debt is over $31 trillion and we already have a $1.3 trillion annual deficit. Republicans often talk of cutting spending to reduce the deficit but increasing revenues (or at least not decreasing them) is also important.

As to the charge that low-income Americans would bear the brunt of the Fair Tax, FactCheck’s numbers show otherwise. Back in 2007, the analysis showed that Americans who earned less than $15,000 would see their share of the federal tax burden decline from -0.7 percent to -6.3 percent.

There is some truth to the claims that the tax is regressive, however, because the tax burden was also estimated to decrease for those who earned more than $200,000. That means that the burden on the middle class would increase to maintain revenue neutrality, although as I mentioned above, how much tax any individual pays is largely a matter of choice.

The FactCheck piece ends with the curious line, “It is possible that the FairTax would make most people better off, but much of that gain would be a direct result of making the tax code less fair.”

That begs the question of whether the purpose of the tax code, along with generating revenue, should be fairness or making more people better off. I’m not sure I’d share their conclusion.

Having said all that, I have a couple of big objections to the Fair Tax. The first is that, like the ranked-choice voting that I discussed last week, it’s a big change that would require an adjustment in the way Americans think about taxes. Right now, Democrats are killing the Republicans in the public relations battle surrounding the Fair Tax. I don’t even hear anyone from the GOP answering the charge that this is a simple tax hike that adds a 30-percent national sales tax to existing taxes. If Republicans aren’t going to try to sell the plan to voters, having Congress vote on the bill is a waste of time.

The second objection is related to the first. The Fair Tax would tax a lot of services that Americans are not used to paying sales taxes on. These include real estate, rent, doctor bills, utilities, and interest to name a few. Again, this is going to take education and explanation if Republicans want people to accept the changes.

Finally, there is the question of whether the sales tax could be implemented and then Congress could decide to keep the income tax. Carter’s bill addresses this concern by calling for the repeal of the 16th amendment. The bill also contains a sunset clause that would make the sales tax null and void if the Constitution is not amended within seven years.

In my opinion, this poison pill makes the whole idea of the Fair Tax unworkable. In our divided state, any amendment to the Constitution is dead in the water. The amendment process only requires 13 states, one-fourth of the country, to block any proposed amendment. That is true regardless of whether the amendment is proposed by Congress or a convention of states. When you start counting states, it quickly becomes apparent that either party has plenty of votes to block an amendment proposed by the other.

The bottom line here is that it seems pointless to force the Fair Tax through Congress only to have it disappear seven years later. Even worse is the possibility that Americans would end up with both a national sales tax and an income tax. Democrats are quick to attack Republicans over the sales tax proposal, but I’m sure that if it became law they’d be happy to take advantage of the new source of revenue and hesitant to scrap the income tax.

In the end, the Fair Tax has both advantages and disadvantages, but it doesn’t really matter because it isn’t going to become law. McCarthy may have promised his caucus a vote, but I’d be surprised if the bill even passes the House. In the unlikely event that it does, it will die in the Senate, and there is no chance in Heaven that President Biden would ever sign it into law.

Proposing the bill amounts to an unforced error (although McCarthy may have been forced into it) because it gives Democrats an opportunity to beat Republicans about the head and shoulders with claims that the GOP wants to enact a 30-percent sales tax over the whole country. Those claims are only partly true but with no Republicans out there explaining the proposal to voters (and voters not having very long attention spans to listen if they did), the Fair Tax bill looks like a liability for Republicans.

From the Racket News