Archive for November, 2013

Security cameras vs. the Miami Gardens Police Department

Ravaged by drug crimes and gang activity, Miami Gardens finally found some statistical relief the last couple of years in overall crime only to be overshadowed by climbing homicide rates. The Florida city is in dire need of trusted cooperation between law enforcement and the community.

However, the community is not only being short-changed by the efforts of the Miami Gardens Police Department, their rights are being violated in the process. The infringement has been so drastic as to prompt shopkeeper Alex Saleh to purchase and install 15 security cameras to surveil and document police activity at his store. One of his employees, Earl Sampson, has been arrested countless times for trespassing at the store, his own place of work. In spite of not once being convicted of anything more than marijuana possession, his rap sheet stacks intimidatingly high against him: 56 arrests, over 100 searches, and 258 times he has been stopped and questioned.

Sampson isn’t the lone victim to the harassment. Another employee was arrested for illegal possession of a firearm. Charges were never filed, however, as the firearm was found during an illegal search captured on security cameras.

Once Saleh signed up and posted a sign endorsing zero tolerance as the police had requested his business to do, the police have frequented the store at incessant rates. Saleh claims that the police have harassed him as well once he started questioning them and sticking up for the rights of his employees and customers. On one occasion a patrol of 6 policemen comprising the entire Miami Gardens Rapid Action Deployment squad marched in and posted up ceremoniously for 10 minutes side by side as one went in to use the restroom. Saleh, bemused, could only ask questions to which the squad gave no response. On another night, two policemen followed Saleh out to his car and wrote him up for the tail light above his license plate being out. Two more patrol cars came to bring the total policemen necessary to write a tag light ticket to 6. They searched his car and found a gun, which Saleh had a license to carry. Saleh claims the police threatened with an expletive that they were going to get him before they finally left. The security tape of the parking lot from the night before captures a perfectly working tag light on Saleh’s car.

There are plenty of ways to analyze and speculate about the controversy in Miami Gardens and the egregious profiling habits of its police department. What is most important, however, is to realize how iconic this case is of the social injustice that plays out in the United States on an everyday basis and the real lives it ruins.

The ACLU recently released a report revealing that although whites are a little more likely to smoke marijuana, blacks are almost 4 times as likely to get arrested for it. Racial profiling abounds, and hopefully ambassadors like the Alex Saleh’s sticking up for victims like the Earl Sampson’s can do enough to at least bring awareness to the injustice of a society that too often would prefer to roll over and sleep on it.

To explore further how far behind the U.S. is compared to other social democracies concerning issues like these and many more, please visit our Social Justice page at InternationalComparisons.org.

U.S. “social netting” lacks and inequitably distributes

In the middle of a series of articles titled “The High Cost of Low Taxes” for Moyers and Company, Josh Holland challenges the stigma of higher taxes and exposes the issue in its proper context. Whereas InternationalComparisons.org compares the United States to 11 of the top performing Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, Holland includes all 37 OECD countries for his series. Simultaneously dispelling myths and reconstructing the argument in the terms we should have been using all along, Holland evaluates whether the U.S.’ tax system is equitable, efficient, effective, or enough.

Credit: politicalgrafiti.wordpress.com

Holland raises the argument that we should be comparing how much we spend (publicly and privately) on social costs and what kind of “social netting” we get as the product for our expenditures. Noting that since the U.S. public and private sectors combined social spending is comparable to the OECD average (29% to 32%, respectively), U.S. quality of social netting should also be proportionate. However, this is hardly the case. In his second article, he tackles specifically the issue of health care, revealing through a World Health Organization report and a compilation of statistics at Bloomberg just how poorly the U.S. health care system performs (in many cases close to last and others dead last) compared to its most relevant peers. Here, then, is Holland’s reasoning: if we are paying nearly the same social costs, why is there such a discrepancy in the quality of the results?

The discrepancy begins in the imbalance between public and private spending on social costs. According to the statistics, OECD countries that delegate social spending to the public sector provide better social netting for its citizens. Health care, as established above, is one dynamic example of how the U.S. has been short-changed; the U.S. tax systems is yet another.

Americans’ heavy reliance on the private sector to provide social goods and services doesn’t only result in us paying a lot and getting a lot less for it, compared to other wealthy countries. It also makes the financing of our entire social welfare system far less fair. It’s a great deal for the wealthiest, and a huge rip-off for the rest of us.

Holland introduces his third installment with this remark and proceeds to discuss that the tax system is not only unequally weighted, but also that there are hidden implications. For example, federal taxes might seem more progressive, but the distribution of state taxes is the antithesis of progressive. In fact, the weight of taxes is nearly level, but the bottom-most quintile provides for 11.1% of state tax revenue. As the quintile groups ascend by earning, the percentage by which they’re taxed descends with the largest earning quintile being taxed 7.5%.

Taken from: Rip-off: High Out-of-Pocket Social Costs are a Stealth Tax on the Middle Class and the Poor, http://bit.ly/19CRoR9

Still, even within the federal tax system, examples of regressive taxes thrive. Holland discloses that payroll taxes that provide for social security and Medicare are a flat tax with those making $20,000 a year paying 6.2% just like those who make up to $113,000.

We may deduct from Holland regarding social netting that those who need it and pay for it the most–whether by the unfair tax system or by out-of-pocket costs they can hardly afford–receive the least from it, especially when compared to the social nettings of the best performing OECD countries.

Holland has two more installments yet to come in the series to be published at billmoyers.com in the next few weeks.

Citigroup writes bill and history (which is now set to repeat itself)

Credit: usnews.com Silver linings are only hard to come by depending on which side of the spectrum you’re on.

After passing Dodd-Frank in 2010 and letting Wall Street go with a mere slap on the hand and a “Don’t you ever do that again,” United States Congress passed a bill to enable Wall Street to do just that: repeat history and endanger us with another crisis due to egregious financial management.

Passing  292-122 votes, the Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act reverses the portion in the 2010 agreement that restricted Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)-insured funds from being invested in high-risk “swaps” also known as derivatives, the same type of investments that brought down banking giants like Bear Stearns, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, Wachovia, and countless others. Aptly interpreted by dailykos.com, this means that, “In short, this bill socializes risk (we all pay for their gambles if they fail) and privatizes profit (they gain a whole lot with very little risk because of your guarantee).”

To ask, “How does Congress get the nerve to write such a bill?” would be an inaccurate question. Citigroup, in fact, is responsible for having written 70 out of the 85 lines in the bill. The financial giant is again able to afford such extracurricular activity on Capitol Hill thanks to a $45 billion dollar bail out after the first go-’round. Still, Congress summoned the courage it takes to copy and paste (changing merely two words from singular to plural in two of the most essential paragraphs) during the writing process and voted for it, indeed, overwhelmingly so!

Nearly six times as much money, $22.5 million to $3.8 million dollars, were given to members who voted for the Act according to a Maplight report. History is poised to repeat itself should Too-Big-To-Fail again be tested. And why shouldn’t it? It’s not their risk that is at stake, only our risk for their gain.