Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Prosecution drives former professor to suicide.

Brandy Britton, 43, had been a professor at the University of Maryland. She taught in the fields of sociology and anthropology at the University of Maryland until 1999 when she lost her job.

There isn’t a high demand in those fields. You rarely hear anyone saying, “Gee, I was looking for a good anthropologist. Can you recommend anyone?” So Britton turned to the oldest profession in the books, so old in fact that anthropologists study it. She became a prostitute.

And things must have gone well enough for her since she continued in the profession for some years. One year ago the local police, having run out of real criminals to pursue, turned their attention to Britton and arrested her. The local prosecutor also lacking any other activity of value worth doing was taking her to court in a few days times.

Britton faced four charges and each carried a potential of one year in prison. Britton, however hung herself.

Christopher Flohr was her attorney. He said she was “kind and generous”. And he noted: “Her death underscores an important question: Was the public benefited at all by the resources spent on her arrest and prosecution?”

Busybody neighbors bare some of the responsibility. They noticed “men pulling up in fancy cars and staying only briefly”. What is missing? They didn’t notice any deterioration of the upscale neighborhood. They didn’t find drug dealers or other prostitutes hanging around outside the door. In fact they didn’t see anything except men periodically driving up to Britton’s home. But they suspected she was having sex and in America that’s practically considered tantamount to genocide. One can have sex, of course, provided they hide the fact and feel guilty about it.

With the nosey neighbors peering over the fence, hoping to catch a glimpse of something salacious, the police decided to investigate. Now one news article I read said: “According to Baltimore Crime Statistics and Crime Data, Baltimore’s crime level rates ‘worse’ than the national average in every category except the ‘Rape” category.”

Or take this little tidbit from WJZ television: “In Maryland, there were 407 black homicide victims in 2004, meaning 25 of every 100,000 African-Americans were murdered. Maryland ranks seventh when it comes to this problem.” The station notes that the mayor of Baltimore says most of these killings take place in Baltimore.

The Baltimore Examiner had a headline that screamed: “In Baltimore, not even police officers are safe from random crime.” They write: “Two visiting law enforcement officers were robbed at gunpoint outside a bar in a trendy section of Baltimore, hours before they were to attend the funeral of a Baltimore detective who was shot to death during a robbery attempt at the end of his shift.”

Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm said: “We’re hurting as a city.” After this attack one of the police officers said: “I’m upset that stuff like this is happening in Baltimore and in areas that are fairly decent. I could have been dead. This is terrible. This city has been horrible lately.” Horrible lately? Perhaps true but the city is sending a message to women who engage in prostitution.

So they don’t have the resources to fight robbers and murderers. But the police and the prosecutors and the courts can spend hours going after woman like Britton. They can put them under surveillance and troll the internet to see if they are advertising prices for their services -- which is what they did in Britton’s case. And real criminals are dangerous! They sometimes do nasty things to officers who arrest them. It’s safer to arrest someone who is harmless, someone like Britton. So that’s what they did while Baltimore goes to hell in a handcart.

Brandy Britton’s arrest made life difficult for her. She had to hire an attorney and attorneys are not cheap in America. To make things worse she had to stop working since the police were watching her. With her trial only days away she would have been despondent. With no income she was desperate. And then she found the piece of paper on the front door of her home. It was being repossessed. The only glimmer of hope she had was that a conviction could mean she wouldn’t need a home for four home -- the state of Maryland would provide one at great expense to the taxpayers.

The eviction notice, coming on top of the arrest and pending trial, was obviously more than she could take. So she hung herself.

That must give some comfort to the people of Baltimore and the nosey neighbors with nothing better to do. An obviously dangerous criminal is now off the streets -- permanently. She may have been kind. She may have been generous. She may have done nothing to harm another person. But the good Christian people of Baltimore can sleep knowing that one less prostitute threatens their safety. But if I were them I’d sleep with one eye open. While the police and prosecutor were chasing Britton they were ignoring murderers, rapists, thieves, and sundry other violent individuals who actually violate the rights of others. But in a decent society you have to have priorities. After all this horrible woman was having sex! For money!!!!

A visit to Baltimore might mean that you get mugged, your wife is murdered and your daughter is raped. But joy of all joy, Brandy Britton isn’t around to solicit you anymore. Don’t you feel better already?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Why they are smashing online gambling.

As long as we know people have enjoyed a game of chance. They like to gamble. Some people prefer a game of skill like poker or a game of chance like roulette or the slot machines. All around the world there are casinos to attract gamers. And with the advent of the internet there is online gambling as well. I suppose there is online poker, online black jack, etc. I imagine that any gambling one can do in a casino now has a similar version online as well.

There is an assumption made by the moralistic that such activities are sinful. They waste resources. Well, so does government but the moralistic crowd seems to want it around -- in spades.

At the worst you can say that gambling is a vice. As Lysander Spooner wrote: “Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property. In vices, the very essence of crime --- that is, the design to injure the person or property of another --- is wanting. It is a maxim of the law that there can be no crime without a criminal intent; that is, without the intent to invade the person or property of another. But no one ever practises a vice with any such criminal intent. He practises his vice for his own happiness solely, and not from any malice toward others.”

So what is behind the US governments attempt to police the world when it comes to internet gambling? Is is moralistic vice hunting? To some degree it probably is. The Bush regime is riddled with religious fanatics besotted with regulating man’s private morality. They don’t care whether an action is criminal or not. The mere fact that it is a vice is sufficient for them.

But that is not the major inspiration for this crackdown. Consider this; there are lotteries conducted by government across the United States. State governments promote gambling. They encourage people to take risks and they restrict competition so that they can give lousy returns on the investment. One’s chance of winning a lottery depends on how many prizes are given out. A lack of competition means less pressure to give out more prizes. It raises costs for consumers and reduces their chances of winning. And greedy politicians love it.

The government sells you a ticket for $2. They keep the $2. Out of the income from ticket sales they give out a fraction of the money in the form of prizes. And then they tax you for winning back from them. If you win $2 it is income worthy of taxation. If you lose $2, as you normally will, it is not a business expense. Your loses are entirely your own but your winnings you share with them. So they encourage gambling. To a large degree greedy politicians want to limit your ability to gamble because online gambling is unwanted competition for them.

But there are casinos all around the United States. So doesn’t that undermine that theory? No. First, why are their casinos all over the US. Only a few years ago they were few and far between even while lottery games run by government were all over the place. The competition arose when Indian reservations discovered they had the legal right to regulate gambling on their own land. They were immune from the anti-competition laws that governments set up to protect their monopolies on gambling.

And once the reservations had casinos it became absurd to continue restricting casinos elsewhere. The dam was cracked and water was escaping so better to allow them and tax them. The demise of gambling laws was a reluctant concession by politicians who found they really had no choice.

But if there are casinos all over the United States and if government itself is in the gambling business then why this fanatical drive to wipe out online gambling?

If you look at our previous post “The power to destroy” I make the point that government loves to tax. Politicians are greedy bastards even when they pretend to be generous. (Note that is always easy to be generous with stolen money and much harder to be generous with one’s own salary.) They want to get their hands on a good portion of even dollar that is ever spent.

It is their ability to grab other people’s money that gives them power and prestige. If you win a big sum at the casino it is reported to the greedy politicians. If you win the lottery your earnings are partially confiscated by them. What you spend within the borders of the United States belongs to them. If you spend $1 they may keep 10¢ of it for themselves. The recipient of the remaining 90¢ spends it and finds that the government now takes another 9¢ and so on and so on until the politicians are taken the full dollar.

Government taxes your winnings at the casino and it taxes the profits of the casino. If you win the governments gets some. If the casino wins the government gets some. They are the protection racket of the Mafia writ large with one difference -- the Mafia took less. But online gambling is another matter entirely.

The damn casino doesn’t physically exist anywhere. It is an online entity. It may be a company registered in some primitive place with low taxes like Switzerland. The people who provide the service of gambling are being allowed to keep most of what they earn. And that is what drives greedy politicians into such a frenzy.

The entire reason for smashing online gambling is greed. Politicians want to protect their revenue sources and online commerce is a threat to that.

The power to destroy.

Man has long dreamed of traveling to the stars. And Brian Emmett was one of those men. He is a space buff. Space tourism is still in its infancy and well beyond the price of most people. So it just didn’t seem possible.

But Oracle Corp. is moving into this field and they had an on-line contest. Emmett entered the contest which required answering some questions about the Java computer code. And he was absolutely thrilled when he found out that he won. His lifelong dream of traveling into space seemed one very giant step closer to reality.

And then the dream smashers stepped in. US tax codes require that a prize like this be taxed as income. And the normal cost of the flight was $138,000. Even though Emmett would never see the cash the greedy government has to grab a share of everything. If Emmett took his prize he would still have to pay the government $25,000 in taxes. And Emmett just can’t afford that.

He had to turn down his dream, it was smashed to tiny pieces by the voracious appetite of big government. He said: “There was definitely a period of mourning. I was totally crestfallen. Everything you had hoped for as a kid sort of evaporates in front of you.”

Two other winners are still planning on collecting their prize but they don’t live in the United States -- formerly known as the “land of the free”. Odd that a country that kicked off its independence by a revolt over a small tax on tea is so oppressed by the heavy hand of taxation today.

Emmett’s misfortune is compounded daily. US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall once said: “The power to tax involves the power to destroy.” Government taxed Emmett’s dream and they destroyed his dream.

Every day taxes destroy dreams, reduce the standard of living people but the subsidies make major corporations wealthier, they pay for useless studies, subsidize dysfunctional lifestyles, pay for “bridges to nowhere” and the like. Every single tax is destructive. No tax does more good than harm. It can’t.

Whether or not they are necessary can be debated. That they are destructive can not. At the very least they need to be cut.

Government knows taxes inhibit and destroy. They tax cigarettes highly because they know it will reduce the activity that is taxed. And then they pretend that in other fields it won’t inhibit at all. Taxes on labor destroy jobs but government pretends that is not the case. Taxes on housing destroys housing reducing the quality of living of citizens. The capital gains tax punishes people for investing their money thus reducing investment -- reducing innovation and job creation.

An income tax and sale tax inhibits everything! People buy less food because it is taxed. They buy fewer books because they are taxed and hence learn less. To the degree that medicine and health care is taxed people are forced to forgo some treatment. Taxes on income reduces an individuals ability to plan for his own retirement, or find quality education for his children outside the state asylums called “public schools”. Taxation is everywhere the enemy of progress and human well being. Taxes smash dreams.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Why the election spending scandal?

Unfortunately the United States is already moving into silly season. The next presidential campaign has already begun. Democrats are lining up for the nomination. No surprise really since they all think the Republicans are in deep trouble. George Bush has destroyed the credibility of his own party.

Already millions of dollars are pouring into the campaign accounts of prospective candidates. And in the November elections we saw candidates for the House of Representatives spending vast sums of money to win office. Over a billion dollars was spent in the last presidential election.

Now consider that the president is paid a salary of $400,000 per year. A member of the US Congress is paid $162,100 per year. So billions of dollars are spent by individuals seeking jobs that pay only a fraction of the cost of winning the position.

Now there are a couple of reasons for this. One is that the money they spend is other people’s money -- money donated to the campaigns. And the salary is their own. For some that is motivation. Others give up incomes greater than what they receive in office. Power, prestige and perks no doubt inspire many of them. And there actually might be a couple inspired by some idea of community service but they would be hard to find.

Now why is it that billions are spent by other people in order for these individuals to secure office? And why is it that the amount of money spent for election is increasing year after year?

There are a lot of complaints on the Left as to increased spending on elections. And while their solution is the same solution they offer for every other problem in life -- give control to the State to run things -- they never ask why it is that spending is constantly increasing?

The issue is not that hard to understand. People spend millions because the office is worth far more than that. It is not the value which determines the office. It is the power which determines the value of the office.

In modern day America most legislation has nothing to do with protecting people from violations of their rights. Most legislation is not a measure to protect but to redistribute rights and wealth from one group to another. Modern day politics is almost entirely about transfers.

There are two ways this is done. For instance one kind of business may wish to approach government and have them use force against competitors from overseas. They may lobby for restrictions on trade which will drive up the price of their goods. The net result will be a redistribution of wealth from consumers to wealth businessmen and from overseas producers to local producers. Most protectionist measures do precisely this.

Another means wealth businessmen transfer wealth to themselves is that they lobby for various regulations over their own industry. For instance you will often find that Big Business in particular loves such regulations since the cost of regulations impact smaller and medium size competitors the most.

Consider three companies: one has income of $5 million, one has income of $1 million and the third has income of $200,000. The big boy in the field has access to his congressman since he is a reliable contributor to the campaign and the party. Some well-meaning but naive consumer or environmental group comes along and proposes regulations which will add $100,000 to the cost of operating in this field. Big Boy enthusiastically supports the new regulations with slogans about “responsibility” and “community service” and slogans. The measure passes.

What are the results? Well the smallest business can’t face an increased cost of $100,000 and goes out of business. The medium size business is also having problems when costs go up by 10% over night. They can limp along but they have to raise their prices. Big Boy, having a much bigger income, spreads the increased cost out over more customers. So while his prices increase a bit they increase minimally compared to the one competitor they have left. The net result is that they pick up most the $200,000 in business from the smaller company that has gone under. And they start attracting business from the medium sized competitor who has trouble competing on prices.

They realized that regulations reduces competition which is conducive to higher profits for themselves. The big boys can spread the higher costs over more customers and their competitors are thus at a disadvantage. The increased profits often easily pay for the increased costs of regulations. And if they are lucky then some foolish consumer group will point out that average profits have increased (true since the smaller guy went under) and this indicates that more regulations are required.

And if the regulations reach a stage where they impeded on the industry severely it would mean that the medium sized business may go under. Then the same groups would lobby for subsidies and tax breaks to save the “endangered” business especially from foreign competition.

Special interest groups, be they big business or not, find it worthwhile to purchase the good will of politicians. Election costs reflect the potential profits that can be gained through political means. As politicians accumulate more powers the cost of elections will rise further.

What solution does the Left offer? Why, state financing of elections of course. But who benefits from that? Incumbents. The ability that politicians have to hand out favors and redistribute wealth give them a huge amount of “campaigning” ability which challengers do not possess. Incumbents are already receiving public financing by the billions. Every highway they build in their district wins them votes. Every grant they can hand out to some group wins them votes. They spend their entire term of office campaigning with funds from the public treasury. With that advantage it is very difficult for a challenger to win an election against the incumbent. About the only way to do it is to outspend them in the campaign itself.

But what does public financing do? It sets limits on spending thus making it impossible to outspend the incumbent. Public financing is a protection scheme benefiting incumbents.

Is there a real means of solving these problems? There is! The solution is to restrict the powers of politicians. If you reduce the ability of political hacks to hand out favors from the public treasury you will reduce the demand for electing such hacks. The net result would be a reduction in campaign spending.

The corruption, the massive spending, the promises, are all the result of amassing unconstitutional powers in the hands of the political elite. Reduce their powers and the value of electing them will drop dramatically along with all the problems associated with this scandal.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Julie Amero was the scapegoat.

Here is an update on the case of Julie Amero the 7th grade substitute teacher facing 40 years in jail because the local police have zero idea how to investigate her crime: she was alleged to have allowed students to see images of nudity on her classroom computer. She contends that she went to a site on hair styling and that porn pop-up ads starting appearing and she couldn’t shut them down. She is now awaiting sentencing.

In the meantime the school admits that they screwed up. According to one Connecticut paper Robert Hartz, the school district’s information systems director, “blamed himself for the computer pornography incident, saying he may have overlooked an invoice for the update.” That would be the invoice for the update for the software which would have blocked the pop-ups. The school was still running Widows 98, the firewall license expired, and they had no anti-virus or anti-spyware software.

If the school district had done its job the incident couldn’t have happened and Julie Amero wouldn’t be facing 40 years in prison, she would be 80 years old when she got out!

It also appears that the prosecutors didn’t really think they had a case against the teacher since they were very quick to offer her no prison time if she admitted guilt. Normally this sort of plea bargain, with no prison time, is offered when prosecutors are not very sure of the guilt of the person they are prosecuting. Perhaps a good sign they ought to drop the case instead!

Amero, however, apparently held a naive view of justice and thought that if she was innocent she ought to turn down the deal and fight it out in court. She did and the jury apparently didn’t grasp the complexity of the issue and an computer expert who came to testify on her behalf says he was prevented from by the court from doing so adequately.

What is more disturbing, and something I have not seen mentioned elsewhere, is that the school had a problem with porn on the computers before Julie Amero was asked to substitute in the English class. Here is some information from a blog dedicated to education. The author claims:

In June and July of 2004, before Julie's experience, the Griswold Middle School had an infestation of pornography that caused local authorities to seize a computer and hard drives. A student printed a nude image to take home in their backpack! Funny how no prosecution took place in those cases.

It is inexcusable that no action was taken to upgrade the protective software at that time (they had the summer to do it). And it explains why nobody thought much of Amero's experience at the time, essentially telling her "not to worry about it."

What this adds up to however is grounds for a mistrial since the community responsible was well aware of computer pornography being present on school district computers yet prosecuted Amero under the pretense that she was the menace to society.

This woman has been cruelly maligned because of the lack of honesty and integrity on the part of everyone involved with the prosecution of this case. Everybody apparently KNEW BETTER than to believe this woman intentionally accessed those sites or that such an incident was unusual in the school setting.

More and more it is looking like Julie Amero was a scapegoat for the inept policy of the school district. They let the blocking software lapse. Amero says she told others about problems of porn on the computer and nothing was done about it. And now we are told that the computers at the school had this very problem before she worked there.

The entire rebuttal of the prosecution about all of this is that she is guilty because she didn’t simply pull the plug. First, if the images are popping up your first instinct is to try to close the screens. Second, you try to quit the program. The very last thing you do is simply pull the plug as this can cause damage to your system. And one would be particularly reticent of pulling the plug on a computer that you don’t own!

Julie Amero is the victim of inept police and bad laws which were passed by idiots who don’t understand the actual problem they were trying to solve. It is also a good time to remember what Mark Twain said: “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

Anatomy of a Smear

Someone is trying to smear Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois. An anonymous smear, being spread by Theopublican outlets, claims that Obama was trained as a youth at a Muslim madrassa, or religious school. It is an intentional distortion of the facts meant to harm the Democrat.

We know who first published this smear. It is Insight magazine, a publication connected to the Unification Church cult of Rev. Moon,, a man who claims he is the new Jesus. This cult has poured millions into the extreme Right in the United States and is closely connected to the far Right in the Republican Party.

This publication says that Obama “has not been forthcoming about his Muslim heritage”. Perhaps because he doesn’t have one. The publication attributes the smear to anonymous sources supposedly within the camp of Hiliary Clinton. Clinton’s campaign denies it. But since Insight doesn’t name any names I suggest they be treated as if they invented the story out of whole cloth.

Here is the lie as printed by Insight: “Obama was raised as a Muslim by his stepfather in Indonesia. ...[He] spent at least four years in a so-called Madrass, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia.” They quote an unnamed source saying “He was a Muslim, but he concealed it. His opponents within the Democrats hope this will become a major issue in the campaign.” They say that in his autobiography Obama “mentions but does not expand on his Muslim background, alluding only to his attendance at a ‘predominantly Muslim school.’” The Right-wing rag says “the U.S. intelligence community has determined that today mos of these schools are financed by the Saudi Arabian government and they teach a Wahhabi doctrine that denies the rights of non-Muslims.”

Now for some facts before we go further with how the extreme Right is spreading this lie.

First, Obama says he was not raised as a Muslim. He says his father, who divorced his mother when Obama was two years old, had been raised a Muslim but was an atheist when he married his mother. His mother, from Kansas, he says was secular. He is a member of the United Church of Christ himself. His mother meet and remarried an Indonesian and moved to Indonesia with the young Obama.

And what is this “predominantly Muslim school” he mentions? Is this a madrassa? No, it was a public school in Indonesia. Why is it predominantly Muslim? For the same reason any public school in the U.S. is predominantly Christian. The vast majority of Indonesians are Muslims. Insight uses the quote to imply that it is a madrassa but the quote itself proves it wasn’t. A madrassa would not be “predominantly” Muslim but exclusively Muslim.

Numerous news outlets investigated the school and all of them came to the same conclusion. The school is a public school. Like all public schools in Indonesia it has religious classes but the classes on Islam are for Muslims and Christian students go to Christian classes. Indonesia doesn’t practice separation of church and state -- something you would think the Theopublicans would be applauding. The assistant headmaster of the school, Akhmad Solihim told ABC News, who went to the school to actually check the facts, “We are a regular public school.”

So it was not a madrassa, not funded by the Saudis and not an exponent of Wahhabism. That was all invented. Insight said he attended for four years. In reality he attended for two years and then transferred to a Catholic school, where they worship Jesus not Rev. Moon. Obama moved back to his birth country, the United States, when he was ten years old. So for a total of four years he was living outside the U.S. as a child, was not raised Muslim and did not attend a madrassa and only attended the "predominantly Muslim" school for two years, from the ages of six to eight.

But the radical Right Insight got the story out using their “anonymous” sources. And when pressed to defend the story insist that the information did come from the Clinton camp but offer zero proof that is the case. I have little doubt that Hilary and her people could do something like this but there is no evidence that they did.

Once Insight reported on the story Fox News picked up the smear and added new invented material to the accusation. (Play the Fox News distortion above.) On the abominably bad Fox and Friends show host Steve Doocy said that Obama spent “the first decade of his life raised by his Muslim father as a Muslim and was educated in a madrassa.” So much for objective reporting! Count the falsehoods in that one sentence.

1. Obama lived with his father from birth to two years of age not for the “first decade of his life”.
2. His father was an atheist by the time Obama was born and no longer Muslim.
3. Obama was not raised a Muslim.
4. He was not educated in a madrassa.

That has to be a new record of some sort. To pack four falsehoods into one sentence is not easy. It takes effort. While they attribute the story to Insight they also expand the story. Insight falsely claimed Obama attended a madrassa for four years. Fox has this expanded to the first decade of his life. Remember Obama lived in the US until he was six and was only in Indonesia for four years.

Notice that Fox made zero effort to confirm any of these claims. They simply repeat the lies over and over and over in this report. And they have the audacity to question the veracity of the New York Times in this report!

In another segment on Fox John Gibson, who wrote a distorted book on the alleged war on Christmas, reported that Obama smoked and wanted viewers to consider, “would you vote for a smoker as President?” Now there is a, pardon the pun, burning issue of the day. I’d take a smoker over a liar any day!

Gibson has no shame and no scruples. After this attack on Obama for smoking he tried to justify it. He brought up the old theory that smokers lack character! And then he brought in the madrassa smear saying: “That, my friends, is way, way worse than saying he smokes Marlboros.” Gibson is disgusting. He says Obama, "attended a predominantly Muslim school as a youngster in Indonesia -- translation: madrassa.” What a prick! It doesn’t translate into a madrassa at all. Every public high school in the US is predominantly Christian when it comes to the student body but that doesn’t make them Bible schools. Most publis schools in Indonesia are predominantly Muslim but the schools are madrassas.

Gibson, then makes fun of a potential Obama television commercial: “Hi, I'm Barack Obama. Funny thing happened to me on my way to the White House. Somebody discovered I didn't go to a kindergarten. I went to a madrassa.” Talk about dirty reporting. We should note that even if this were true, and it is NOT, how can anyone hold Obama responsible for the school he was sent to as a six year old?

And to cap off how reliable Fox News can be look at this report. Watch carefully. Here is a report about a man being arrested for child molestation. So what do they show as the film clip, in an almost subliminal way, to illustrate a child molester? They show Obama supporters carrying signs for the candidate including one sign that was a photo of the candidate! Anyone else think that Fox News is out to get Obama any way they can? See this clip below.

Disclosure: I have no intention of supporting Obama or Clinton for president. I see no likely candidate worth supporting. The likely Republican candidates turn my stomach and the Democrats seem intent on trying to find someone who is even worse.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Now that's what they call "term limits".

The people of the town of Fago, Spain seem to know how to take care of a politician who tries to micromanage the lives of the entire village. They killed him. To be precise police aren’t sure who killed Miguel Grima but the entire population of this mountain village is a suspect.

The town has only a few dozen citizens but Grima pissed them all off. The only bar was forbidden by this bureaucrat from putting tables out during the summer. So they were pissed off. He refused to issue any hunting licenses so that pissed off hunters. Farmers, for centuries were allowed to drive livestock through the tiny town but the mayor stopped that. So the farmers were pissed off.

Grima has been involved in court cases with most the residents of the village at one point or another. The Telegraph says “He had taken out injunctions to prevent people making home improvements and closed down a bed and breakfast because it competed for business with his own establishment.” And when the only two children in the village tried to play basketball in the only flat spot in the village he banned that as well.

Only one villager would comment on the killing. Santiago Miramar said: “He was an unpleasant man who ran this place like his personal kingdom. He made life difficult for most of us but for a select few he made life impossible.”

According to police at least 3 people participated in the ambush attack on this interfering politician. Well, it’s certainly quicker and cheaper than a recall election. Is this what they mean by term limits.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

And, we're here to help you!

The Indianapolis Star ran a story about a 93-year-old man, Thelmon Green. A veteran of World War II he had made a living as a handy man. He can’t collect Social Security as he worked his entire life in the underground economy -- not that he ever made that much money to begin with. And at his age he is able to work very much.

The newspaper told the story of how people in the neighborhood help this man.

People in the neighborhood -- many have known Green since they were children -- bring him food. They slip him fives and tens. They visit him. There are the Hall brothers, Philip and William, who bring him meals; there's Joe "Red" Long, the Red of Big Red Discount Towing, who gives Green not just a parking space but access to the bathroom, and an electrical outlet so Green can heat the van, listen to the radio and cook on a small electric stove; there's a Jehovah's Witness who comes by with Watchtower magazines -- "retired post office, helluva nice guy," Green says. Some charity is at work here, obviously, but it's more than that. "Mr. Green is just a good guy to be around," says Philip Hall, 57. "He says, 'The Good Master woke me up again today -- I'm doing great.' I learn from him. If you sit down and talk to him, you can learn a lot from that old codger."

With the help of the neighborhood Mr. Green was surviving. And he was happy. So he said. One of the businesses in the area had a broken down mini van on their lot and allowed him to live there. They ran an extension plug out to the van to run a space heater and a cooler for the food that people would bring Green. In the summer he’d fish.

And while not the lifestyle that most of us would want he liked it. He wanted to live on his own and without any income he truly relied on the kindness of strangers. But then these people aren’t strangers. Many of them have known Green since they were children. And they made sure he got by.

The Green story is sad but also heartening. He doesn’t have much but he has enough to survive -- after all he made it 93! He had a roof over his head, though not much of one. It was heated, he had friends and he had food. He had everything he wanted. Until someone from the government showed up to help him!

The evil cow is Sherly Crum, a petty bureaucrat from the Marion County Health Department who decided that Green has the right to be homeless and ought to exercise it. She had him evicted from the van because it didn’t have running water and electricity (the extension cord doesn’t count). Nor does it matter that just a few feet away are the bathroom facilities of Big Red Discount Towing which the owners happily made available to Green.

Readers of the Indianapolis Star are furious, if you go by the comments. One expressed my sentiments: “Crum you are a pig and may you rot in hell.” I’m not so sure I’d have been that nice myself! One woman addressed her remarks to the Crum-my people at the Health Department: “If this man is happy in his home, what business is it of yours?” Another: “He’s not hurting anyone. They should let the old man live how he’s happy.”

Another writer found the original story of a neighborhood helping one of it’s own touching but notes “now this guy gets the shaft”. Another: “Government at it’s best, the person who evicted him went home to a nice warm bed and put an old man out in the cold... What a shame... Did they drown any kittens that day also?” Or: “I hope Mrs. Crum finds herself in a tough situation one day that will make her realize she should stay out of people’s business that is not hurting one other soul on this earth.”

I didn’t read all the comments left with the Star, after all there are well over 300 of them. But I did read the last 40. And only one person seemed to think that the Crummy bureaucrat should have done what she did. And even they weren’t enthusiastic about it -- they just said she was doing her job.

Dennis Ryerson, editor of the Star, said the original story was “touching”. The journalist who wrote it said “It was a story of a guy living in a van happily, and a story of how a village can look after folks, as well as a bureaucracy.” (Actually, it turns out they looked after him better since they didn’t evict him into the cold!)

The paper says they never considered that the heavy hand of the “were here to help you” bureaucrats would step in and ruin this man’s life. They “thought of the many other people in Marion Country who are left to live in even worse situations. Surely, they reasoned, Green would be left alone.”

People came to Green’s defense. A former car dealer offered him a camper van but it was unknown whether that would satisfy the morons at the Health Department. A daughter who had been out of touch for 40 years heard the story and is back in touch. And the Star, stupidly in my view, wrote that “Thanks to all the attention, government promises to the indomitable Mr. Green should stand a better-than-average chance of being honored.”

Green doesn’t want to move. His wishes will be denied him. His own choice will be over rode by the bureaucracy that knows best. The publicity may mean he will end up better off. But that is not how it works for most people subjected to the help of Mrs. Crum and her kind.

Consider what would have happened without the accompanying publicity. An elderly man is living in a van happily. He seems to thrive for his age -- much better than most people his age. He’s evicted because there is no running water or electricity (ignoring that he does have electricity in fact and water a few feet away). Imagine no publicity at all. He’s evicted. He now can exercise his right to sleep in the outside cold with nothing to keep him warm -- no space heater, no cooler for his food, no shelter whatsoever.

Green would have discovered that the government was quite happy to tell him that either he have a shelter they approved of or no shelter at all. This is like forbidding someone food because what they have isn’t nutritious enough. Better they starve than eat junk! Better to be entirely homeless than to live in a van.

Remember the old joke about the three big lies: “Yes, I’ll respect you in the morning. The cheque is in the mail. And, I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” The worst of the lies is that last one. It does far more harm to people than the other two. Sheryl Crum wins our Moron of the Week award. And to quote a reader of the Indianapolis Star, may she rot in hell.

The bureaucrats were caught by the backlash and rushed off to put a spin on the move to make themselves look good. Apparently when their action became public they were flooded with phone calls. Collette Duvalle, a spokesmoron for the Health Department claimed: “It’s in the spirit of compassion from the health department that we’re working with Mr. Gree to make sure he is happy with whatever he decides to at the very end.” Duh! He was already happy until they stepped in. She claimed it was all a misunderstanding -- they never told Green he had to leave. Right! They claim that Green has lots of options but won’t reveal what they are because it might violate his “privacy”. Green says he just wants to be left alone.

The Health Department is not happy with the publicity. And one local television station reports they say “if Mr. Green chooses to live in his van the issue may be taken up by the city. Residing in a van or camper may violate zoning laws.” (Sleeping on the street doesn’t.) So it looks like the bureaucrats at Health are afraid of the bad publicity so they will pass the buck to another department to do the actual eviction! Ah, that government spirit of compassion.

The good old days. Before Bush!

Here is a video clip of a segment from The Andy Griffith Show. The boy is film producer Ron Howard who plays Opie Taylor, the son of the sheriff. Based on my best guess of his age (he's 52 now) this would be circa 1966. It illustrates quite nicely what the attitude about bugging people was at the time and a thing called due process. But hey, it's George Bush's America and that Constitution, to quote the imperial president, is "just a damn piece of paper."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Spanish justice minister stands up Islamists.

While Bush focuses on the “tearists” in Iraq he is constantly sucking up to the Saudis. But some of the most persistent organizers of radical Islam in the world are Saudi Wahhabis or Salafists. Salafism was a minor sect in Islam until two things happened. One was the Salafist Saudi family took over in Saudi Arabia and two was that oil was discovered giving them billions of dollars to spread their extremist ideas. Today the Saudi regime is pouring billions into spread of Salafist extremism to mosques around the world. It is no accident that 15 of the 19 9/11 terrorists were Saudi.

Considering the role Saudi Salafism has had in radicalizing modern Islam you would think that the great (sic) opponent of Islamist terrorism, George Bush, would stand up to these people. Of course not! Instead he was seen literally walking hand in hand, like lovers, with a Saudi official.

In light of Bush’s constant appeasement to the true funders of Islamic extremism it was nice to see a Western official stand up to the Saudi puritans. Spain’s justice minister was to speak on the globalisation of terrorism at Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University, which Al-Jazeera describes as “the academic heart of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Islam.”

Female journalists from Spain wanted to cover the event but being inferior woman, as the Wahhabis would see it, they were banned. They were even wearing the black abaya and veil so as not to offend the Puritanical obsession of the Wahhabis. But nothing could change their gender and the problem is that women are simply inferior according to Wahhabis and banned for the university.

The Spanish delegation was only told on Sunday night that women would be prevented from entering the meeting on Monday. Spain’s justice minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar was told that females would be banned so he packed his bags and left. He left printed copies of his speech but he went home. Gee, a justice minister who stands up for justice. How refreshing to Americans who are used to an Attorney General who destroys Constitutional rights.

No doubt Dinesh D’Souza will be outraged that the moral values of Islamists were insulted and that the Lopez Aquilar was engaging in “cultural imperialism”. This is another example of how “the cultural Left” is working to destroy D’Souza’s much desired alliance between the Religious Right and the Islamists. Yes, folks, Dinesh gets to be an enter season of The Twilight Zone all by himself. No doubt Dinesh the Appeaser will use this to promote his book -- somebody has to pay that massive house.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Write a letter, win a visit from the Secret Service.

An 81-year-old man was questioned by Secret Service agents because he wrote a letter to the editor that was critical of President Bush. Dan Till, of Bethlehem, PA wrote a letter about the execution of Saddam Hussein. He wrote: I still believe they hanged the wrong man.” That was all it took for him to be visited by the Feds.

Till was at home when he received a phone call from the Secret Service asking him if he was home. When he said yes he was told the agents were in his parking lot waiting for him. The immediately came up and started questioning him. The agents also searched his home and took photographs of him. Last year he was visited by the FBI over another letter to the editor.

It should be noted what this means. Even if the vague statement in the letter could be taken as some round about threat on Bush what this means is that federal agents are checking out the letters to the editors of newspapers. The mere knowledge that federal agents are checking out who writes letters to the newspaper and what they say stifles free speech in America.

Write those letters if you wish but remember Big Brother is watching. Welcome to the land of the free. Right!

Bush and his new world government. Be very afraid.

The arrogance of the out-of-control American government knows no bounds. While gambling is legal, in one form or another, in most US states the theocrats in the Bush administration have been pushing through antigambling legislation in regards to the internet and doing so with businesses that are not located in the United States.

Recently two executives with internet payment service NETeller made the mistake of changing planes in the United States. They were arrested because their company, or more precisely, their former company, had taken payments from US citizens to pay for on-line gambling.

It used to be that when you changed planes on an international flight you were not considered within US territory. But the Bush authoritarians changed the rules requiring every person changing planes to go through passport control so that the US could get fingerprints on everyone and assert it’s sovereignty. The two NETeller officials were arrested because their former company transferred funds at the request of American clients.

Now the US federal thugs have issued subpoenas to major European banks demanding they turn over all “business records, correspondence, and e-mails related to internet gambling transactions.” The Register reports this “raises the possibility of widespread American criminal charges against everyone who has ever been involved with the online gaming industry, even if in a peripheral way.”

The US government is now acting like a global government entitled to make law for the entire world. It has unilaterally, and hypocritically, said that internet gambling is a “massive criminal enterprise” and on that premise they are assert extraterritorial rights to destroy legitimate businesses. The US is acting like a bully, rogue nation and it needs to be reigned it. The US is the biggest threat to the sovereignty of other nations currently in existence. And unless other nations get the guts to stand up to these bullies it will get worse and worse.

How long will it be before the anti-law criminals in the US Justice Department start arguing that once they arrest these criminals that they can hold them indefinitely in a concentration camp at Guantanimo while refusing them access to an attorney. The US Attorney General has just made it clear that he believes that the selective violation of writ of habeas corpus is constitutional.

The Register reports:
“Since indictments may remain sealed under American law, anyone in a decision-making capacity with any investment bank that has involved itself” with gambling “should be particularly careful about traveling in any American jurisdiction, including places such as the American Virgin Islands or American Samoa that are involved with offshore banking.”

The federal thugs are not just after gambling. They are after the financial affairs of every American citizen in their obsessive drive to assert absolute control. After the former officers of NETeller were arrested the company “ceased accepting payments from American citizens”. And this is a another goal. The US Fed do not want financial transactions involving Americans unless they can trace them, track them, record, and tax them. This is why it is nigh unto impossible for Americans to open bank accounts in Europe anymore. Even the Swiss are terrified to open accounts for Americans because of US laws which threaten the banks with the confiscation of all assets they hold in the United States.

Even more incredibly the US thugs issued a press release stating that NETeller knew that these transactions could be “illegal under current or future US law”. Get that! It might be illegal under future laws!

The Bush doctrine is that there are no limits to the power of the US federal government. It has thrown out Constitutional protections of the individual. It has consistently asserted the right to put under federal jurisdiction matters which are reserved to the domain of the states. It has asserted its right to dominate and control the internal affairs of other nations. And now it says that American style Puritanical laws can be imposed on the rest of the world.

Conservatives have long warned that if the world doesn’t stand up to a bully the bully will get worse and worse. Will they now admit that the US federal government is a bully?

Trigger happy with deadly Tasers as well.

First, we have a video of man who is in police custody. Watch it carefully. The man appears drunk to me. He is standing and then goes to sit down. He is not threatening a police officer. He is not violent. He is not verbally aggressive. The officer orders him to stand. The man stands up but then goes back to sit down. He is then shot with the Taser while sitting peacefully several feet away from the police officer. While he was not obeying the order to stand up he was not violent either. This video clearly shows a police officer using the Taser merely to discipline people and not to prevent violence. And what happens after the officer Tasers the man for the sin of sitting down? He then orders the man to sit down.

T.J. McNally of Sarasota, Florida was having a good time before a police officer showed up and used a Taser on him. McNally had friends over for a Independence Day pool party. A swaggering police officer from the local sheriff’s department, Deputy Mark Eve, turned up at the front door and said the music was too loud. The music was then turned down. That ought to be the end of the story. But it wasn’t. The cop wasn’t finished.

No criminal action was implied by the officer against McNally. His own report lays out his case for using a lethal taser (yes, they are lethal as we shall see shortly) against McNally. First, he says he smelled alcohol on McNally’s breath. Now there’s a shocker! It was a party at the man’s own home. That he had some drinks is no surprise but neither is it criminal. He says McNally yelled at him. Oh, poor baby had his ego bruised. And then the clincher, when Barney Fife demanded that McNally provide the officer with his birth date the man walked away from him.

Police officers have the false impression that they are allowed to demand information from people who are not guilty of any crime nor charged with committing a crime. Barney says: “I asked the defendant for his home address, and he again attempted to walk away.” Okay, so Officer Eve is about a dense as they come. He gets a report about loud music at a specific residence. He goes to that residence and then demands that the resident tell him the address. If he didn’t know the address how did he get there in the first place?

Old Barney here says that McNally refused to answer him, was walking away and took “a fighting stance”. Was McNally taking a fighting stance as he was walking away? Or did he walk away and then when he was away from the officer did he stop and take a “fighting stance”. And if he had walked away, even if he had taken a fighting stance, could he have been a threat to the officer. Now if the officer claimed that McNally had walked toward the officer while taking a fighting stance that might be believable. But the officer claims that McNally walked away from him. Walking away from Barney means the man is no threat to the officer. So a man who was no threat, was walking away from the officer, and who had not committed a crime was attacked with a taser by an officer who had a bruised ego.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune says that experts on the law they spoke said that “once the music was turned down, the officer’s investigation should have ended, leaving no reason for the deputy to keep McNally from rejoining the party.” And while Barney Fife tried to file charges against McNally they were dropped. According to McNally’s attorney they were dropped because McNally had no legal obligation to answer the officer’s questions. W.T. Gaut, an expert on the matter, told the paper: “You can’t just issue an order to a citizen and then if the citizen doesn’t comply, use the Taser on them.” Gaut said many police officers are using Tasers like a “cattle prod”.

McNally is now suing the Sheriff’s department and it sounds like he has a good case. He was not under arrest, he complied with the request to turn down the music, he was walking away from the deputy and he was under no legal obligation to undergo questioning about a very minor issue which had already been resolved. Of course the internal sheriff’s investigation said that Deputy Eve the use of force was justified. But they always say that. In the eyes of police departments there is no such thing as copy who gets his jollies inflicting pain on others.

Not even children are immune from trigger happy cops with Tasers. Three police officers in Miami approached a six-year-old child in an elementary school. They said the boy had a piece of glass and threatened to cut his leg. So the officers shot him with a Taser. In another case a 12-year-old girl skipped school. A police officer found her at a swimming pool where she was, hold your hats, smoking. He told her he was taking her to school. She ran away so he shot her with a Taser. He said he was protecting himself and the girl -- she might have run into traffic. In another case police Tasered an 11-year-old child who was fighting with another student. Apparently police officers are too fragile to pull two fighting children apart without shocking them with 50,000 volts of electricity.

Two arguments have been used to justify Taser usage. One is that they are not deadly and two is that they reduce the likelihood of police officers shooting and killing people. Both arguments are defective.

Andrew Athetis was 18 years old. He was not in frail health. According to the Arizona Republic the man had no criminal history. He began acting “erratically” and told a woman his name and told her to call the police. He then hit her and took her keys and ran away. Athetis ignored orders by the police and they used the Taser on him. They say he struggled a bit then went into “medical distress”. He was taken to hospital and died. Since 1999 to 2005 there were 167 deaths attributed to the “non-deadly” weapon. And the company that produces the weapon is currently facing 50 wrongful death law suits.

In early January a former school teacher, Blondel Lassegue, 38, died after police used a Taser on him. Lasseque had mental problems and had stopped taking his medicines. In Fort Pierce, Florida, also in early January, Douglas Ilten of Nashville, Tenn, was supposedly acting erratically and threw some musical instruments out of a rental truck. Police arrested him and tried to put leg restraints on him which he resisted. So they used the non-deadly Taser on the man who then died.

A few days before those incidents in Gastonia, North Carolina a 42-year-old man, Calvin Thompson was seen running down the street nude. He didn’t obey police orders to stop so they used the non-lethal Taser on him. He became unconscious and then died a few minutes later. In Paradise, California, according to the Mercury-Register a man was shot with a Taser on January 2 and then died as a result.

Pete Madrid, 44, was stopped by police because they said he was walking barefoot and carrying his shoes. So they interrogated him over this heinous crime and said he appeared to be under the influence of narcotics (hmm, notice that cops are under the influence of power). Madrid walked away from them and other police officers grabbed him. He struggled so they used the Taser. He went unconscious, was rushed to the hospital and then died.

With a very limited search on my part that is six incidents of people who died as the result of police using the “non-lethal” Taser on them in just the last three weeks.

Houston, Texas has a problem in that their police officers are infamous for killing unarmed citizens. So in 2004 they spent $4.7 million to purchase Tasers. (Good lord, how much does these non-lethal deadly weapons cost?) The explanation for the purchase was that by giving police officers Tasers to play with they would be less likely to kill civilians. Tasers will save lives!

The Houston Chronicle said that in Houston this has not been the case.

Since the Houston Police Department armed itself with Tasers, touted as a way to reduce deadly police shootings, officers have shot, wounded and killed as many people as before the widespread use of the stun guns, a Houston Chronicle analysis shows.

The paper reports that in the last two years the police have used the Tasers more than 1,000 times, “but in 95 percent of those cases they were not used to defuse situations in which suspects wielded weapons and deadly force clearly would have been justified.” Instead more than half such incidents “escalated from relatively common police calls, such as traffic stops, disturbances and nuisance complaints, and reports of suspicious cases.” What is very, very scary is that” In more than 350 cases, no crime was committed.

In Houston that would mean that about one out every three victims of police Tasers was completely innocent of any crime whatsoever! And the newspaper found that of those charged with a crime “most were accused of misdemeanours or non-violent felonies.”

In the most stunning display of “police reasoning” Police Chief Hurtt says: “When people are charged with minor crimes or non-violent crimes, maybe the reason is because they were stopped before they committed a much more serious offense.” Hurtt wins this weeks Moron of the Week award. Hurtt is the first police chief to arm all police officers with Tasers.

Look at the wonder of his irrational “logic”. Police use Tasers on non-violent people by using the Tasers they are preventing violence. I guess by the same logic he would say that the 350 innocent people Tasered by his cops were innocent because the Taser stopped them before they committed a crime.

With no reduction in police killings of unarmed citizens it appears that the police are using Tasers on top of the use of their guns not as a replacement for them. Where a police officer is reluctant to shot someone, for instance when no crime was committed, they aren’t so reluctant to Taser them.

It appears that cops who are trigger happy with guns are also trigger happy with Tasers. Is anyone surprised? Tasers are like taxes. Government may introduce a tax saying it is to replace a more onerous tax but in the end they end up using both. Tasers in Houstin, at least, aren’t replacing the over use of deadly force. They are being used in addition to deadly force and used in cases where they are rarely justified.

Note: For those not familiar with the old TV show Mayberry, R.F.D, Deputy Barney Fife was the bungling deputy sheriff enamoured with his own authority but lacking the brains to wield that authority.

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The dishonesty of Dinesh D'Souza.

The insane suggestion by Dinesh D’Souza that the Religious Right and the Islamists forge an alliance to stamp out social freedom is one of the most absurd ideas to come out of the extreme Right in decades. Of course it has attracted some attention and it wasn’t favorable.

D’Souza has become a lazy writer. Some of his earlier work was well researched. Agree with him or not he did bring forth evidence. Now he has theories and then cherry picks the evidence to fit the theories. His critics have had a good time pointing out that D’Souza gets his facts wrong. He writes about Islamism without actually knowing much about it.

In the New York Times Alan Wolfe dissects the book and notes that it “like the Stalinist apologetics of the popular front period, contain such a soft spot for radical evil.” Wolfe says the books “is filled with factual errors” and said D’Souza is “a childish thinker and writing tackling subjects about which he knows little to make arguments that reek of political extremism.” Ouch! That has to hurt. Of course one reason it hurts is that it is so true.

For instance D’Souza makes mention of US troops in Mecca -- there are no US troops in Mecca and never have been. And he has several times claimed that a US air strike in 1986 on Qadafi caused him to stop his terrorist activities. Of course it was in 1988 that Libya blew up Pan Am 103 -- some retirement!

Conservative writer Dean Barnet is just as scathing.
He said that D’Souza is “poorly informed” and that is about the nicest thing he has to say.

Remember D’Souza’s argument is that it is social freedom, especially in regards to sexuality, that is what driving the jihad against the West. Barnet notes that to “give us insight into the Jihadist loathing for American culture, D’Souza relies on the writings of the father of modern Radical Islam, Sayyid Qutb. Qutb spent two years in America and then returned to the Middle East thoroughly disgusted by American culture. He spent the rest of his life chronicling his hatred for America’s decadent society in assorted writings.”

This fact is what causes Barnet to say D’Souza is either “dishonest or careless”. He is using material attacking the moral liberalism of America based on one Islamist’s two years in the US. You might think this bolsters D’Souza’s case. No doubt that is what he’d want you to think. But the two years in question were between 1948 and 1950. Barnet writes:

Since D’Souza blames our culture for much of the Islamic world’s animus towards America, this is no small matter. The culture of the 1940’s wasn’t what it is today. Perhaps Qutb was scandalized by pop culture products of the time like the overt raciness of “The Best Years of Our Lives” or the raw sexuality contained on the typical Bing Crosby record; the man was after all a lunatic. But the culture of the late 1940’s contained none of the things that D’Souza so obviously deplores and that he postulates are inflaming the Muslim world. The 1940’s had no filthy hippies, no gangsta rap, no gay weddings. D’Souza may think it would be a swell thing for us to turn our cultural clock back to 1949. No big deal there – to each his own. The point is that even if D’Souza were able to wave a wand and pull off such a trick, the Jihadists wouldn’t care. Qutb briefly immersed himself in our late 1940’s incarnation and emerged full of hatred.

D’Souza seems to be using Qutb as a main support for his thesis. But radical Islamists have laid out repeatedly what inspires them to fight and die. They speak of many issues but the issues that D’Souza is worked up over aren’t among them. You don’t find them complaining about gay marriage but about US support for Israel. You don’t find messages from bin Laden condemning Hollywood but he does speak about US intervention in the Middle East.

The reality is that D’Souza doesn’t know what the Islamists worry about. And he doesn’t care. His books is an attempt to appeal to the “base” of the Religious Right. It appeals to those fundamentalists and extremists who already hate gays, “liberals”, feminists and social liberalism. It is meant to give the bigots just another excuse for being bigots and to do that it doesn’t have to be accurate, informed or true. In fact it could not do that if it were accurate, informed and true. For D’Souza I suspect it fills another function. It was no doubt intended to make him some money.

Warren Bass of the Washington Post writes:

Either D'Souza is blaming liberals for Sept. 11 because he truly believes that they're culpable, or he's cynically calculating that an incendiary polemic will sell books. I just don't know which is scarier. One has to wonder why his publisher, agent, editors and publicists went along for the ride, and it's hard not to conclude that they thought the thing would cause a cable-news and blogosphere sensation that would spike sales — a ruckus triggered not despite the book's silliness but because of it. This sort of scam has worked before (think of the calculated slurs of Ann Coulter), but rarely has the gap between the seriousness of the issues and the quality of the book yawned as wide. This time, let's just not bother with the flap; this dim, dishonorable book isn't worth it.

I have to wonder if D’Souza and those hoping to get rich off his antics have not made a serious miscalculation. Sure the modern Right is no longer inspired by a belief in anything but more inspired by it’s hatred for other things. But does he think that they hate gays and Hollywood so much that they are willing to embrace the Islamists? I suspect not but only time will tell. But I did check to see how well the book is selling at Bake and Taylor, one of the largest wholesalers in the US of books. In it’s first week of release they shipped out 156 copies. And it’s not even in the top 100 selling books at Amazon. D’Souza has lost all touch with reality. I just hope that conservatives have not sunk so low as to embrace his lunacy.

PS: One thing D'Souza no doubt wanted has happened. His extremism has brought him some attention. And it is all due to this silly book. His own website was running around 100 hits per day. But on the 16th, when his "I hate American freedom" book came out hits on his website rose to between 1,000 and 2,000 per day.

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Group think, fear of debate and Al Gore.

Here is an excellent example of what is wrong with the political Left -- they don’t want individuals to think for themselves. Here is the context.

Science writer Ron Bailey was a skeptic on global warming questioning whether or not it was happening. He changed his mind and said it is happening (which doesn’t answer many other questions yet but puts him on record saying that it is happening whatever the cause).

Over at the Left-wing green Grist web site staff writer David Roberts wrote that “I think Bailey was obviously wrong to rely so heavily on satellite and other direct temperature measurements.” Okay. But Roberts says Bailey was also wrong to “substitute his own judgement” “for the collective judgement of the IPCC.”

How dare anyone substitute individual judgement for collective judgement!

Here though is the problem. Every single advancement in science has taken place precisely because someone substituted individual judgement for collective judgement. In fact even the favourite Green scare story of global warming started its journey as the crank theory of a small minority. Right or wrong they substituted their individual judgement for collective judgement.

And what is collective judgement? There is no collective brain that makes decisions. There are only individuals who draw conclusions. One might say that there is a consensus of some sort but not that there is such a thing as a collective judgement.

Not only was Bailey attacked for using individual judgement over collective judgement it was a very specific collective that was mentioned. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The IPCC is primarily a political body not a scientific one. It is the politicians who write the final report. Scientists get appointed to the body but it is not a scientific body open to all people in the profession. There is a selective process. The body was set up by the United Nations and as the name implies it is an “Intergovernmental” body which means that governments make the appointments. That is politicians with political agendas appoint who is on it.

Neither does the IPCC do any research at all. They don’t even monitor actual data. These political appointees merely review reports issued by others. The reviewers merely write about what other people write. They pick and choose which papers to review after they them self were picked and chosen by the politicians. They write their report and submit it to their political masters who then write a synopsis. The IPCC has been crticized because often the scientific provisos are removed and worst case scenarios are intentionally highlighted by the politicians who who approve the final press statement.

The reason this Green wants the IPCC “collective judgement” used is because it is a heavily political body which is pretty much guaranteed to give them much of what they want.

But truth is not a collective thing. The idea of collective judgement is ludicrous on the face of it. Many of the worst ideas in history were ideas held very widely at the time. There was a time when a large number of intellectuals supported eugenics. The most tyrannical movements in history often represented the collective judgement of the society and culture that surrounded them.

The very idea of group think is dangerous on the face of it. As much of the Left likes to talk about “diversity” they are some of the most conservative folks around demanding conformity. And they are most vitriolic about such conformity when there political agenda is under attack. So much of their drive for central economic planning on global scale is based on environmental scare mongering that they wish to stifle all discussion or dissent from their agenda. That is dangerous to everyone.

We need to understand what is happening in regards to climate change. And we need to understand what the real ramifications are -- not just the most extreme scary scenarios that someone with an agenda can invent. And then we need to understand how best to address these issues. We can’t do that without discussion and debate.

But it is discussion and debate that the Left is trying to shut down. Bjorn Lomborg is a well known skeptic on certain points of the environmental agenda but he is a believer in the reality of global warming. He does question the solutions offered but not the problem. Yet a global warming fundamentalist like Al Gore refuses to meet Lomborg.

Gore has been promoting his apocalyptic psuedo-documentary “The Inconvenient Truth” around the world. The film is no doubt filling his pockets nicely. No oddity there after all end time prophets often do quite well off the destruction of the planet. Denmark’s largest newspaper had an interview schedule with Mr. Gore to discuss his film. And they had arranged to have Lomborg participate in this interview/discussion.

All this was known to Gore and had been arranged months in advance. The day before the meeting Gore’s agent called. According to a column written by Lomborg and an editor from the paper, Flemming Rose, the agent “came back to tell us that Bjorn Lomborg should be excluded from the interview because he’s been very critical of Mr. Gore’s message about global warming and has questioned Mr. Gore’s even-handedness. Mr. Gore only wanted to have questions about his book and documentary, and only asked by a reporter.” Of course a reporter wouldn’t be as knowledgeable as Lomborg and wouldn’t be able to ask the hard questions. In other words his thesis would be safe from any real inspection.

The paper agreed to the new terms. But one hour later Gore pulled out of the interview completely. I suggest the reason for that would be fear that Lomborg would give the reporter some questions for Gore. And if the column by Flemming and Lomborg are any indication it was wise of Gore to cancel. He would have had a hard time standing up to scrutiny.

They point out his film speaks of sea levels rising by 20 feet over the next century. Yet the IPCC has said they expect a rise of one foot over the next century. Sea levels rose 1 foot over the last 150 years already apparently without anyone panicking. Why say 20 feet when the best estimate is 1 foot?

Flemming and Lomborg note that Gore’s film blames global warming for the spread of malaria to Nairobi. But they reveal that the World Health Organization says Nairobi is malaria free today. However some 80 years ago, before the recent warming trend, it faced regular malaria epidemics. OOPS, another very inconvenient “truth”. Flemming and Lomborg write:

He considers Antarctica the canary in the mine, but again doesn’t tell the full story. He presents pictures from the 2% of Antarctica that is dramatically warming and ignores the 98% that has largely cooled over the past 35 years. The U.N. panel estimates that Antarctica will actually increase its snow mass this century. Similarly, Mr. Gore points to shrinking sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere, but don’t mention that sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere is increasing. Shouldn’t we hear those facts? Mr. Gore talks about how the higher temperatures of global warming kill people. He specifically mentions how the European heat wave of 2003 killed 35,000. But he entirely leaves out how global warming also means less cold and saves lives. Moreover, the avoided cold deaths far outweigh the number of heat deaths. For the U.K. it is estimated that 2,000 more will die from global warming. But at the same time 20,000 fewer will die of cold. Why does Mr. Gore tell only one side of the story?

Debate and discussion is mandatory in any quest for the truth (except to fundamentalists who insist they have all the truth already). And if we ever embrace the idea that it is wrong to use individual judgement in place of collective judgement then all progress will stop. But then maybe that’s what they want?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

HL Mencken's Creed

I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind - that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.

I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.

I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty...

I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.

I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech...

I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.

I believe in the reality of progress.

I - But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.

I have always had a soft spot for HL Mencken and his writings. Unfortunately he is being forgotten. Here is another gem he wrote which is my unofficial motto:

The liberation of the human mind has been best furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe -- that the god in the sanctuary was a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Save the children. Right!

A few days ago I blogged about the case of Julie Amero a substitute teacher in Connecticut. She says she was on the school computer in the classroom viewing a web page on hair styling when there was an explosion of pop-ups with sexual images. She said the more she tried to stop them the more they appeared. Millions and millions of people have experienced the same thing.

But some of Julie’s students saw the images and she was prosecuted with four counts of risk of injury to a minor or impairing the morals of a child. For this she faces up to 40 years in prison. It is believed that maybe 10 students saw these images which they described as “naked men and women”.

Now this got my imagination working overtime -- the prosecution not the naked images. Obviously the prosecutor, our Moron of the Week, David Smith, no doubt had to paint a picture of how these students were horribly scarred by having glimpsed images of naked people.

He brought the students to court to testify what they saw but I doubt he spent any time asking them of the trauma they no doubt experienced. I was thinking of a little scene where these students are sitting in a room together waiting to testify. Mr. Smith is in the court room telling everyone how horrible it must have been for these students to have seen some nudity or worse -- they might have seen human copulation. God forbid!

As he pontificates on the destruction that this poor teacher inflicted accidentally on these students the pupils themselves are sitting around waiting to testify and chatting among themselves. Here is how I imagined it.

Billy yawns and turns to his schoolmate Ted who is sitting next to him. “Did you see that shit on the computer?”

“Sure I did”, Ted smiled, “but she pushed me away before I got to see much.” Now he frowned.

“Well, when she was pushing you away I got a pretty good look but it wasn’t easy,” bragged Billy.

“Hell, Billy, you sure were lucky” said Ted with a touch of envy in his voice.

“Yeah, I guess so,” said Billy, “but it wasn’t that good.
My dad’s got better stuff than that in the garage.”

John who is sitting across from them pulls out his cellphone and accesses the internet with it. He smiles and hands it to Billy and Ted. The boys look down and smile. “Hey, that’s neat. I’ve seen that site. I downloaded some pictures from there and keep them on my hard drive,” said Ted. “I had to put them in a locked file to keep my mom from finding them.”

Billy is really thrilled to hear about the collection. “Put them on CD for me and I’ll give you a CD of the stuff I’ve got.”

Ted looked a bit perturbed. Billy implored, “Why not? I’m your bud.”

“Yeah, sure but you never gave me back those copies of Playboy.”

“Oh, that, I, I, just forgot. I promise you I will. You could have said something. I just forgot is all. I’ll bring them back and lend you a few I sneaked out from my brother’s room. But I need to get them back next week or my brother will notice them missing. Every time he notices one gone he comes and gives me grief until I give it back.”

John leans over to them and has a suggestion: “Hey, you guys. Come for a sleep overthis weekend. We’ll sneak down to the TV room when my folks are asleep. We get the Playboy channel and I know the code to unlock the parental code.”

“How’d you get that?” asked Billy.

“Easy, I had to show my parents how to set it up. They couldn’t figure it out. Anyway that stuff is tame compared to some of the DVDs my folks have on the top shelf in the closet. They’ll be gone some on Saturday and we can watch those then.”

“Sounds great,” said Ted.

“I’m in,” said Billy. A court employee walked by the room and the boys sat back quietly. Down the hall the prosecution was talking about how those fleeting glimpses of nudity stripped these “innocent children” of their childhood. He pointed a skinny finger at the sad looking teacher and intoned about the trauma inflicted on the young by her carelessness. He implored the jury to find her guilty for the sake of the children. They complied.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The illusion of socialized health care.

Americans spend more per capita on automobiles than do Nigerians. Is there an American car crisis? Americans spend more per capita on houses than do Chinese? Is there an American house crisis? If you look at American per capita spending on various goods you will often find that Americans spend more per capita than many other nations, if not more per capita than most nations.

Films, cosmetics, computers, cars, houses, pets, magazines, chocolate, the list is almost endless. If you take these items and compare per capita spending on them to the spending in other nations you will regularly find America in the lead.

But you don’t hear people talking about the chocolate crisis, the pet food crisis, the lipstick crisis, etc. We don’t do that because spending more is not necessarily a bad thing. If individual B spends $500 a year on cosmetics while individual C spends $0 that doesn’t mean that C is better off. It may mean that C can’t afford any cosmetics while B is well off. This is true for every consumer good you can think of including health care.

But when it comes to health care the advocates of socialist systems of care immediately reverse things. Americans are worse off because they spend more. And that is true. Americans spend more because they purchase more. The average American receives more health care than the average European.

The assumption in much of the world is that American health care is significantly inferior because Americans spend more per person than do people in other wealthy nations.

But no health care system anywhere in the world has been able to make health care available to everyone. Every state provider of care restricts services, often through the use of queuing. Canada’s health care is lauded by advocates of state systems yet Canadians wait significant periods of time for what care is available. One factor often ignored is that most Canadians live along the US border and that some of the for Canadians is provided privately in the United States.

There is little argument that American health care is among the best in the world when it comes to technologies and innovation. What is targeted for criticism is that costs are high and this restricts access.

Economist Arnold Kling points out in his book Crisis of Abundance that in the last 30 years very highly sophisticated new medical procedures have been developed. And these are extremely expensive in themselves. Health care costs in the American government’s budget are a problem. But Kling notes, that if the same sort of care available in 1975 were what was available today, the budget would be safe. New technologies have driven up cost considerably. Costs have gone up because more expensive new technologies push up those costs. Many socialist systems don't have that problem because they decline to use the technology or severely restrict access to it.

Other nations ration these expensive technologies in ways that American consumers find unacceptable. And Klin suggests that this rationing has “also slowed the adoption of premium medicine” where practised.

These premium services do raise the cost of health care. And, as Kling notes, health care is not an exact science. Often a physician looks at a problem, tries his best to determine causes and takes actions which may, or may not, help. He has to make educated guesses but often still guesses none the less. With so many people ready to sue physicians for making the wrong educated guess it is in the benefit of physicians to take all reasonable precautions regardless of cost. A headache could be just a headache solved by a few cents worth of aspirin, or it could be something far more serious requiring tests costing hundreds of dollars just to rule out that possibility. Before the invention of such techniques the recommendation may well have been “Take two aspirins and call me in the morning.” Physicians may well be penalized today if they don’t over test.

Care is often provided by ruling out problems. A patient has specific symptoms which may indicate a number of problems. The physician begins to narrow down the options. Different problems require different solutions and what may work for one problem may make another worse. But imagine if no tests were available for this winnowing process. More patients would suffer from having their problems continue but health care costs would be significantly lower.

Today in the US there are about 25 million MRI scans performed per year. In 1990 it was 1.8 million and none were performed in 1980. This cost didn’t exist in the 80s because the technology didn’t exist. Abolishing new technologies would lower health care costs significantly. But people would suffer and there would be more deaths -- but it would be cheaper.

Today people want the best care that money can buy. That is the problem. New technologies come onto the market daily. These are often capital intensive services requiring highly skilled care givers. The physician of the old days, that some yearn for, could still exist provided patients are willing to accept the care provided in the old days. But they can’t have it both ways.

American consumers are facing higher medical costs due to procedures that are not as available in state-care systems. Kling notes: “Heart bypass surgery is about three times as prevalent [in the US] as in France and about twice as prevalent as in the U.K. Angioplasty is more than twice as prevalent... as in France and about seven times as prevalent as in the U.K.” And what is true for technology is true for personnel. America has the highest rate of medical specialists in the world. All this premium health care does make health care in total more expensive in the US than elsewhere. This is what Kling calls the “Crisis of Abundance.”

Is America overspending on health care? No doubt. But it is also likely that state systems are under spending as well. The extra money that Americans spend is one reason there aren’t queues for surgery. Clearly the third party payment system in the US has driven up costs through the use of premium care. But equally clear is that state systems attempt to reduce this tendency to over consume by rationing care. No central planner can ration health care in a way that optimizes care for all patients. They paint with a wide brush and that means needed care is not given and what is given often is in such short supply that patients die before they move to the top of the waiting list.

America is said to have a health care crisis because it spends more than any other nation per capita. But Americans also lead the world in spending on food, entertainment and automobiles. Yet no one speaks of the food crisis, entertainment crisis or automobile crisis. Of course the big difference is that Americans don’t have their food, cars or entertainment paid for by a third party such as insurance or government.

Some health costs were due to the explosion in demand for services, not due to increased illness. They were the result of the rise of new methods of paying for services.

Mostly the patient was put into a situation where he did not pay directly for the costs of his visit. Approximately 86% of health care costs for Americans is paid for by either government or insurance. This is actually higher than the coverage given under Canada’s state system.

One result of such high third party payments is that demand for care goes up which increases per capita costs as well..

Now patients are starting to pay a fairer share of these costs themselves. One result has been increased competition in health care and improved health services. The New York Times recently reported that in the US a “growing number of physicians... have streamlined their schedules and added Internet services, among other steps, to better meet the needs of patients. For physicians... it is simply good business.”

The reason for the improved services is that in recent years walk-in medical clinics and retail-store clinics have dramatically increased and “pose new competition, and as shrinking insurance benefits mean patients are paying more of their own bills, family care medicine is more than ever a consumer-service business. And it pays to keep the customer satisfied.”

Yes, it is true that Americans spend more per capita for health care and that is because they get more health care per capita. Socialist systems routinely forbid expensive health care to patients. And entire classes of patients are told they must suffer, or die, because the state refuses to provide the care they need.

In South Africa the government announced “free” health care for children under a certain age. How as that provided? One was by neglecting other patients who needed care. A second thing they did was arbitrarily limit that care to certain infants only. For instance if the birth weight was below a certain weight the child was denied life saving care even if it were available.

In one case a mother was told that the hospital would not save her infant’s life even though it had the ability to do so. It was a few grams below the weight limit set by the state. Press reports on the case brought in private donations; the mother and infant moved to a private hospital and the baby lived.

In England a winner of the Big Brother reality show was asked what he planned to do with his large cash winning. He said that a big chunk of it was earmarked to fly a friend to the United States for badly needed surgery. The surgery could be done in England but the socialist system refused to do it because it cost too much. Britain spends less per capita on health care than America does and denying needed surgeries like this is one reason. Deny people needed health care by bureaucratic edict and you can lower the costs per capita.

There is no denying that Americans consume more health care than they need. That is what third party payment schemes do. Nor can anyone deny that some Americans get less health care than they need. But the same is true in socialist systems. There are many people who over consume on small issues because the state covers the costs but who under consume on big issues because the state won’t provide the care at all.

America could match the other developed nations in per capita spending tomorrow but to do so it would have to do what they have done -- deny certain expensive treatments across the board.

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