"Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote over a century ago about what he believed to be the most fundamental of rights, “the right to be left alone.” The NYPD’s surveillance program should make us question whether this right is no longer on the books. If you are taking your child to play soccer, if you are trying to feel less homesick by playing cricket, if you are watching a game at the local bar, you may have unwanted company. For the affected communities, it is a burden that speaks to the worst traditions of racism and collective punishment. If sports can’t be a place to actually exhale and relax, if our children become suspects just for signing up to play, then something is very wrong."

Not a Game: How the NYPD Uses Sports for Surveillance | The Nation

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Yes, it is like comparing apples and oranges. That is the point though. We have built two very different societies with two very different sets of values. Takeesha was born into a world with limited opportunities, one where the black market has filled the void. In her world transgressions are resolved via violence, not lawyers. The law as applied to her is simple and stark, with little wiggle room.

Mr one-glove was born into a world with many options. The laws of his land are open for interpretation, and with the right lawyer one can navigate in the vast grey area and never do anything wrong. The rules are often written by and for Mr one-glove and his friends.

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The wealthy ‘make mistakes’, the poor go to jail | Chris Arnade | Comment is free | theguardian.com

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Knowing how the government spies on us is important. Not only because so much of it is illegal — or, to be as charitable as possible, based on novel interpretations of the law — but because we have a right to know. Democracy requires an informed citizenry in order to function properly, and transparency and accountability are essential parts of that. That means knowing what our government is doing to us, in our name. That means knowing that the government is operating within the constraints of the law. Otherwise, we’re living in a police state.

We need whistle-blowers.

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What We Don’t Know About Spying on Citizens: Scarier Than What We Do Know

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Meritocracy is America’s foundational myth. If you work hard, society tells us, you’ll earn your place in the middle class. But any strawberry picker knows hard work alone is a fast road to nowhere. Similarly, we place our faith in education. Study, and the upper-middle class will be yours. Except the average student graduates $35,000 in debt.

My friends who came closest to attaining the American Dream did it by breaking the rules on how to get there. The standard plan—college to secure job to home you own—was either unattainable or a path to the American debt nightmare.

Those with money usually think they deserve it. But most people who make the world run—who care for kids, who grow food, who would rebuild after natural disasters and societal collapse—will never be rich, no matter how hard or well they work, because society is constructed with only so much room on top.

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Molly Crabapple - Filthy Lucre

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That’s what’s scary about the Aaron Swartz indictment. He was indicted for wire-fraud for concealing his “true identity”, for doing what I do. But at no time was he asked for his true identity. His true identity was not needed to access the JSTOR documents. JSTOR allowed anybody from the MIT network to access their documents, and MIT allowed anybody to access their network without requiring identity.

Let me repeat that: nobody asked Aaron for his true identity, but he was indicted for wirefraud for concealing his true identity. He was indicted for doing the same things I do every day.

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Errata Security: I conceal my identity the same way Aaron was indicted for

"Defenders of the prosecution seem to think that anyone charged with a felony must somehow deserve punishment. That idea can only be sustained without actual exposure to the legal system. Yes, most of the time prosecutors do chase actual wrongdoers, but today our criminal laws are so expansive that most people of any vigor and spirit can be found to violate them in some way. Basically, under American law, anyone interesting is a felon. The prosecutors, not the law, decide who deserves punishment."

— Tim Wu, “How The Legal System Failed Aaron Swartz — And Us” (via quirksintech)

(via quirksintech)

Fiscal Therapy (or, what is the purpose of the USA?)

  • For years now, whenever I've been invited to lecture students on how our tax system works, I have asked a simple question: What is the purpose of the United States of America? The most common answer, be it at prestigious universities, elite prep schools, rural community colleges, or crowded urban high schools, is this: To make people rich.
  • This should come as no great surprise. For anyone born after, say, 1970, the world has been shaped by Ronald Reagan's remaking of government's relationship with private interests—a vision of lower taxes, less regulation, and maximum economic leeway for those at the top. In this view, the pursuit of wealth is the warp and weft of America; everything else will follow.
  • By contrast, the preamble to the Constitution tells us the nation's reason for being in 52 words that can be reduced to six principles: society, justice, peace, security, commonwealth, and freedom. Individual riches don't make the list. They are a product of American society, not its guiding purpose. Progress, then, must begin with a return to the best of the values that created this Second American Republic—one born, it's worth remembering, from the failure of the Articles of Confederation, whose principles (weak government, unfettered capitalism) found their resurrection in the economic policies of the past three decades.
But here is really the only tax graph you need: It’s total tax burden by income group. And as you’ll see, every income group is paying something, and the rich aren’t paying much more, as a percentage of their incomes, then the middle class.

That’s really what the American tax system looks like: Not 47 percent paying nothing, but everybody paying something, and most Americans paying between 25 percent and 30 percent of their income — which is, by the way, a lot more the 13.9 percent Mitt Romney paid in 2011*.

When politicians try to convince you that half of Americans aren’t really paying taxes, it’s usually because the real data undermines their preferred policies. For instance, you wouldn’t look at these numbers and think tax cuts for the rich need to be a huge priority. And that’s one reason people who want more tax cuts for the rich don’t like to show you these numbers.

(via Ezra Klein - the one tax graph you really need to know)

But here is really the only tax graph you need: It’s total tax burden by income group. And as you’ll see, every income group is paying something, and the rich aren’t paying much more, as a percentage of their incomes, then the middle class.

That’s really what the American tax system looks like: Not 47 percent paying nothing, but everybody paying something, and most Americans paying between 25 percent and 30 percent of their income — which is, by the way, a lot more the 13.9 percent Mitt Romney paid in 2011*.

When politicians try to convince you that half of Americans aren’t really paying taxes, it’s usually because the real data undermines their preferred policies. For instance, you wouldn’t look at these numbers and think tax cuts for the rich need to be a huge priority. And that’s one reason people who want more tax cuts for the rich don’t like to show you these numbers.

(via Ezra Klein - the one tax graph you really need to know)

  • The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life. You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district. That’s what money buys you: goods and services that make your life easier, that give you time and space to focus on what you want to focus on.
  • That’s what money has bought Romney, too. He’s a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s great! That’s the dream.
  • The problem is living the dream has blinded him to other people’s reality. His comments evince no understanding of how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, how awful it is to choose between skipping a day on a job you can’t afford to lose and letting your sick child fend for herself. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it.
  • In their book “Poor Economics,” the poverty researchers Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo try to explain why the poor around the world so often make decisions that befuddle the rich.
  • Their answer, in part, is this: The poor use up an enormous amount of their mental energy just getting by. They’re not dumber or lazier or more interested in being dependent on the government. They’re just <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=Tj0TF0IHIyAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false">cognitively exhausted</a>.
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That money, of course, all came from investments. But Romney didn’t even manage those investments. Someone else took charge of the decisions. Romney basically made $14 million in 2011 — putting him way, way above the top 1 percent, which starts at around $350,000 a year — because Romney was very rich in 2010, too. That’s the nice thing about being rich: It makes you richer.

Compare Romney to a single mother of two who works full-time at Wal-Mart, who takes the Earned Income Tax Credit and whose children get health insurance through Medicaid. Romney says she’s not taking personal responsibility. He says he couldn’t get her to take personal responsibility if he tried. And yet, Romney is someone who doesn’t even have to take personal responsibility for earning money anymore. He’s beyond all that.

Romney’s situation is wonderful. It’s the dream. And he worked to achieve it. I have no qualms about any of that. But his riches have come with a lack of empathy for what it’s like to be poor, or even just not-rich. He’s taken the fact that he’s rich as an indictment of the work ethic of people who aren’t. And he’s carried that belief into his policy proposals.

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Ezra Klein