Monday, April 30, 2007

In the War on Drugs you could be collateral damage.

Power-mad Drug Warriors in Atlanta murdered an elderly grandmother in her home. This blog has covered the killing of Kathyrn Johnston over a period of time beginning with the day of her murder.

Here was a terrified elderly woman living alone. She rarely left her home out of fear for the drug gangs that control her neighborhood. She had a handgun for self-protection.

One day some Atlanta Drug Warrios came to the conclusion that this home had drugs. They manufactured false evidence in order to get permission for a”no knock” raid where they don’t identify themselves a police before battering down the door. And then they attacked. They started samshing down the door of this old woman’s homes. She is, as you would be, terrified by the obvious attack on herself. She draws a conclusion that makes sense to me. She assumed that a criminal gang was attacking her. She was right. They were just a criminal gang with permission from the state to operate.

Kathyrn Johnston, fearful for her life, from unknown assailants fired in self-defense. The police mowed her down in return. And time after time this blog showed how they lied in order to try to cover up the murder of this grandmother. Now the New York Times reports on the case saying that the US attorney says the Altanta police have a “culture of misconduct.” The paper reports:

In court documents, prosecutors said Atlanta police officers regularly lied to obtain search warrants and fabricated documentation of drug purchases, as they had when they raided the home of the woman, Kathryn Johnston, in November, killing her in a hail of bullets. Narcotics officers have admitted to planting marijuana in Ms. Johnston’s home after her death and submitting as evidence cocaine they falsely claimed had been bought at her house, according to the court filings.

Three of the police officers have been indicted for their role in the murder of Johnston. Two of them pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and to a conspiracy to violate the civil rights of their victim. I have to protest. This was not involuntary. The cops knew they were liars. The cops knew they were manufacturing evidence. Whatever plea bargain they may have obtained they are killers and deserve the same treatment as other killers.

Part of the reason there is such a culture of misconduct is because police officers receive special treatment when they violate the laaw. Their fellow officers lie for them, lose evidence or manufacture it as needed, neglect to investigate a case properly, etc. This sort of wink-wink, nudge-nudge attitude tells the police that if they overstep their boundaries they shouldn’t worry as much as normal citizens. It creates a set of special privileges granted to the agents of the State. If anything the laws passed by the State ought to apply to agents of the State even more strictly than to the general public.

US Attorney David Nahmias said that the police officers are corrupt but not in the usual way because they weren’t seeking financial rewards. “Their goal was to arrest drug dealers and seize illegal drugs, and that’s what we want our police officers to do for our community.” So they are not treated as the killers they are because they are part of the Drug War cult. Apparently if you a Drug Warrior even murder can be tolerated to one degree or another.

Mrs. Johnston was not a drug dealer. She is dead. She did not die from drugs. She was killed by the War on Drugs. She did not die because she voluntarily inserted a needle in her arm. She died involuntarily because the Drug War is used to excuse almost any action by the State and its agents. A woman who wanted to live was killed because it is believed a proper function of government to prevent people from acting stupidly.

FA Hayek warned us that for the collectivist (conservative or socialist) that the “greater goal” always justifies horriffic acts “because the pursuit of the common end of society can know no limites in any rights or values of any individual.”

What did these killer cops do. They arrested someone who claimed he bought drugs at Johnston’s home. The police then invented a false story that a police snitch had purchased drugs from the home. They also lied to a judge saying the home had surveillance cameras in order to get a “no knock” warrant.

After they shot this elderly woman they handcuffed her on the floor while searching her home. Apparently they didn’t see something amiss that a woman in her 90s was lying dying on the floor. What did concern them was that there were no drugs in home. So one of the police officers decided to provide some. He planted three bags of marijuana in the old woman’s home to pretend their murder was justified in the name of stopping drugs.

They the officer called a police informant and told him to lie and to claim he was the one who had purchased drugs at this location earlier. And all three officers met several times to concoct a cover-up to justify their earlier lying in order to get a warrant to raid this home.

Let us be honest here. This could happen to anyone. Kathryn Johnston was no drug dealer just a terrified old woman living alone. She had done nothing to warrant the treatment she received either before her death, as she was dying, or after her death. She was another innocent victim in a misguided war on drugs -- a war that does more harm than good.

I don’t dispute that drugs can be a problem for some people. But drugs didn’t kill this grandmother. She wasn’t a junkie, a pot head, a doper, or a cocaine fiend. She hated drugs. She may have even supported the War on Drugs. But Drug Warriors, not dealers, gunned her down.

Now and then drug users die from their habit. At the very least they do so because they took actions which put themselves at risk. Mrs. Johnston did no such thing. She made no choice, or took no action, that should have lead to her death. Her death was not the consequence of her own actions.

Over and over we see this sort of thing happening. Cory Maye was a father sleeping at home in the middle of the night when he heard someone smashing in the door of his home. With an infant baby to protect he took cover and pointed a revolver at the door of his bedroom as heard the criminals making their way to his bedroom. When the door opened he fired in self-defense. He shot and killed a police officer who had broken into the wrong apartment. Maye was sentenced to death for defending his baby from armed men who he did not know were Drug Warriors.

John Adams, 64, was home watching some television when a Drug War SWAT team invaded his home. He was shot to death in the raid. It was the wrong home.

Veronica Bowers was a young mother and a Baptist missionary. She and her seven month old baby were in a light plane when the US government mistakingly identified the plane as belonging to drug dealers. The US gave the Peruvian military the information to shot down the plane. Killed by Drug Warriors.

Rudy Cardenas had five children. One day he was out walking and walked past the wrong house as Drug Warriors were attacking. They wrongly targeted him as a resident. Cardenas fled in terror and the Drug Warriors shot him in the back multiple times.

Annie Rae Dixon was 84 years old and rather ill and in bed. Her home was targeted for a drug raid and when police kicked open her bedroom door they say they accidentally shot her to death.

After two terms in Iraq Marine Sargeant Derek Hale had retired from the military. He drove to Wilmington, Delaware to participate in a Toys for Tots event sponsored by the Pagan Motorcycle Club. Police were watching some members of the club. Derek was at a friends home on the front stairs when the wife of his friend and her children came home. He helped the family into the house and sat back down when an unmarked vehicle with blacked out windows appeared. It was the Drug Warriors.

Five witnesses to the event say that Hale did nothing wrong. As police began their assault on the house Hale stood up wondering what was happening. A taser was used on him causing convulsions and involuntary movement. Hale’s hands, which had been in his pockets, jerked out from the shock. At this point police shot him to death saying they did it in self defense.

A witness to the event said Hale “was just sitting there. He didn’t do anything.” Police tasered him and then ordered him to show them his hands. The electric shock of the Taser renders victims incapable of controlling their muscular functions. It is extremely hard, sometimes impossible, for a victim of a police tasering to be able to comply with such orders. When Hale couldn’t comply they shocked him a second time. Hale fell down the steps and began vomiting. A witness protested loudly saying this was “overkill” and police “told him to ‘shut the fuck up,’ or they’d show him overkill.” The Drug Warriors then Tasered the incapacitated man a third time. It was at this point that they shot him to death.

The Heard family of Osawatomie, Kansas heard a horrific noise in their home. It was flash-gang grenade lobbed in by Drug Warriors. They had no idea who was attacking them or why. Willie Heard grabbed an empty rifle to try and scare his attackers and protect his wife and teenage daughter. He was shot to death by Drug Warriors. It was the wrong house.

Ismael Mena was home one day when police broke in looking for drugs. He was shot to death. It was the wrong house. Mario Paz, 65, was shot in the back by Drug Warriors during a raid. There were no drugs.

When Drug Warriors raided the Sepulveda home they ordered 11 year old Alberto to lie face down on the floor. He obeyed. Two other children were in the room and some police officers were handcuffing them. Police claim a gun discharged accidentally, shooting the boy in the back and killing him. No drugs were found in the house.

Alberta Spruill was an older woman minding her own business when Drug Warriors lobbed a flash grenade into her apartment. The terrified woman suffered a heart attack and died. It was the wrong address.

Kenneth Brown was in a car with some friends when Drug Warriors pulled it over. The men were forced out of the car and made to lie on the ground. One police officer said he couldn’t see Brown’s hand so he shot him in the head. There were no drugs and the Drug Warriors were confused and looking for a different vehicle.

Rev. Accelyne Williams had spent a good deal of his ministry helping people kick the drug habit. His home was targeted in another mistaken raid. After having his home violently invaded he was tackled and thrown to the ground and handcuffed. He died of a heart attack induced by the trauma.

Drugs kill but the people killed by drugs are people killed by their own bad decisions. Drug Warriors kills and it can be anyone, anywhere, at any time. All you need is to be in the wrong place when they go on the rampage. You might even be in your own home with your loved ones when they smash down your door. All it takes is a false accusation, a missing digit on a search warrant, or a confused police officer. Drugs only are a danger to you if you choose to take them. You can avoid them quite easily. Drug Warriors are a danger no matter what you do. And many innocent people have been victims of this brutal force.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Socialism: when judges try themselves.

I want to paint a scenario for you. Imagine a privately owned hospital, owned by a for profit corporation. At this hospital numerous premature infants die. The reason for the death is that the corporation did not maintain the ageing plumbing system and it was infested with a bacteria. The tap water literally killed the weakest patients and made many others sick.

Of course parents are traumatized over this matter. And as they would be expected to do they demanded that the hospital tell them what happened and why. The hospital refuses to do this. And the reason is that the corporation has a policy forbidding the revelation of such information to the parents. A top official of the corporation is asked why this information was keep secret and he says that public disclosure of this incident was not needed since the bacteria did not pose a threat to most people. It did post a threat to some however but not most.

In addition he says that secrecy over the deaths were warranted because they happened over a year ago. He also says that it was warranted to sweep this under the carpet because he didn’t think it would happen again. And if the public knew that several dozen babies became ill due to bad plumbing, with four deaths, they would “get the message” the hospital posed a “widespread risk”.

Under those conditions what do you think will be said about the private provision of health care by a profit-making corporation? Would you be surprised if there was an outcry that the hospital be nationalized with its supervision turned over to the State?

Something like this did happen at the Ste.-Justine Hospital. The pseudomonas bacteria was growing in the plumbing system. Four infants died as a result and 50 became ill. The hospital was not owned by a corporation but is part of the socialized health care system in Canada. And administrators refused to tell parents the cause of death because laws imposed by the State forbade them sharing such information with parents.

The public health department director said that it was fine to keep this information under wraps because it didn’t threatened everyone, had been over with, wasn’t going to happen again, and because he didn't want parents thinking the hospital “is a place full of germs and danger.”

In this case the government covered up for one of their own hospitals that was killing patients due to bacteria that was allowed to grow in a water system that had not been adequately maintained. Not maintaining things is another way that socialized medicine can “hold down costs” in its drive to prove it is cheaper than private care. Of course cheaper care is not necessarily better care or even equally sufficient care. And in this case it was deadly care.

Socialized health care in Canada is State-owned health care. The State is the corporate owner of national health services. So the owner basically enacted a law ordering another brach of the same entity to hide information that would embarrass the owners.

A private hospital acting the same way, with corporate owners making similar remarks, would be in for some serious legal scrutiny by the State. And a rule imposed by owners, mandating keeping the cause of deaths secret, would be deemed a cover-up. In the private market the parents of the dead infants would have a major law suit against the corporate owners.

If it were shown the hospital neglected maintenance in order to hold down costs, and then hid the truth from the parents, it would be unlikely this hospital would win any sympathy from a judge or jury. And there would be a State legal investigation regarding this neglect.

In this case the entity that is responsible for protecting people’s rights is the same entity that owns and operates the health system. That doesn’t bother advocates of socialized health care one bit. But it does worry me.

If this had been a private company no one would accept as valid the idea that one arm of the company is considered an “unbiased” judge of other branches of the same company. If McDonalds accidentally poisoned a few dozen children and then hid the information most people would want an independent investigation. If the matter goes to court, and it would, we’d also want a judge who is not employed by McDonalds.

How do you get this sort of independent investigation with a socialist enterprise? The State owns the health care service. The State sets the rules by which the service operates. If something goes wrong the State investigates the service. If a legal case is made the State judges the facts

To understand the problem consider a sport which has players interacting with one another. The game has some rules to it. And on the game field there is a referee. The referee observes the players, adjudicates disputes, and makes sure that the basic rules of the game are followed. His job is to be an independent judge of the conduct of the players.

But what if the referee were also a player in the game? Immediately problems are created. How can a player in the game be expected to judge the conduct of other players. And what if he is not just a player judging whether others are playing according to the rules but is also allowed to make up the rules as he goes along? Better yet he can make one set of rules for himself when he’s playing and another set of rules for others.

This is precisely what happens with a socialist enterprise. It is owned by the State. It has become a player in the game. But the State makes the rules by which everyone is playing and it judges whether people are playing fairly or not. As a player in the game it has a tendency to make one set of rules for itself and another set of rules for everyone else. It rigs the game in a dishonest fashion.

If a real game were played like this you would see players quitting and walking off the field. How can you honestly compete on the field when some players have special rules for themselves? If the referee can have his services purchased how can he fairly judge disputes? He can’t. If the referee is actually playing in the game how can he fairly judge disputes? He can’t.

When the referee joins the games he not only distorts the process of the game but he ceases to be an effective referee. The one task that justified his existence in the first place is neglected out of necessity as he becomes intertwined with the task of being a game player.

In normal judicial matters a judge is removed from cases if he has a personal stake in the matter. It is known, that even with judges of integrity, that it is often difficult to judge honestly when one is involved with the litigants. A judge would not be allowed to sit on the bench in a case involving his own mother.

But socialism requires this to happen. It makes the State not only the referee in the game but a player as well. The judge in the case is directly linked to specific players in the game. He can right rules that favor his team as he goes along. In referees started scoring goals in a game people would be upset. Yet they seem unable to see the problem of having the referee is social interactions, the State, playing directly in that game to the benefit of one team over another. Or to have an entire team of referees who judge their own actions.

This case in Canada showed that the State is a poor referee or judge in matters involving itself. State bureaucracy has repeatedly been shown to be unable to honestly judge its own activities. But socialism inherently creates this conflict of interest. It makes the referee a team member and allows him to pass judgement on his own actions. And the results of a game played in that manner are bad for everyone except the referee in question.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

When in doubt blame technology.

Cole Porter wrote a song with the phrase “bees do it” but of late bees haven’t been doing a lot of anything except dying. The bees leave their colonies and never return. This was labeled “colony collapse disorder”.

Of course there are those who have certain axes to grind who immediately had the culprits they wanted to focus attention upon. Well, the Organic Consumers Association ran a headline on their web site claiming: “Pesticides May Cause Bees to Forget Location of Hive.” In addition they said: “There is also concern that some genetically modified crops may be producing pollen or nectar that is problematic for the bees...”

The media I had read said the disappearing bees were a mystery. So I was curious as to why some environmental groups and food faddists were so quick to blame pesticide or GE crops.

The Sierre Club sent a letter to Senator Tom Harkin demanding that an investigation into how “exposure to genetically engineered crops and their plant-produced pesticides” are “the cause or contributory factor” in Colony Collapse Disorder. They imply that GE crops may be causing a form of AIDS for bees and want more regulation of GE crops.

Ron Bailey at Reason found this letter quite strange since studies the Sierre Club referenced didn’t actually back up their fantasies. And he noted that the problem was also appearing in Europe that prides itself on being scientific Neanderthals who are “biotech free”.

So without GE to blame what did the anti-tech crowd in Europe do? They blamed cellphones. The Independent in the UK claimed that there is evidence that cellphones interfere “with bees’ navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives.” One man who has been attacking cell phones for year, Dr. George Carlo, insisted that “the possibility is real” that cell phones are to blame. As to be expected the paper concentrated on a handful of flawed studies ignoring the bigger studies completely.

The obvious reason the cellphone theory was flawed from the start was that they have been around for years. If they interfere with bees homing instincts then why didn’t they interfere last year or the year before?

Apparently the mystery may been solved. The Los Angeles Times reports that the preliminary results of a investigation into the problem “proved the solid evidence pointing to a potential cause.” What do you think it was?

I’ll give you a hint. Neither cell phones nor biotech crops have anything to do with the problem. In fact the problem is entirely natural. The researchers are finding “a single-celled parasite called Nosema Ceranae” along with two other fungi and some viruses in dead bees that have been studied.

The theory is that fungus in particular weakens bees and they are too weak to return to the hive. Once infected they fly out and never return leaving a ghost hive behind. Scientists say that this is similar to another fungus which also is deadly to bees and if the culprit can probably be treated with an antibiotic fumagillin used on the other fungus.

Now think about this for a second. First, there was a mystery and one that was potential harmful to human life since bees are used to pollinate crops that we depend upon for our survival. So something bad happened. We had no evidence as to what caused the problem. As I said, it was a mystery.

In the absence of evidence some of our friends in the Green movement immediately started claiming that humans were responsible. That it was cell phones or GE crops. By the way bees actually prefer some GE crops because they produce more nectar which is the reward bees get for pollinating. In essence these GE crops were a pay raise for bees.

It was like a game of Clue (Cluedo in some places). Except without clues being gathered the Greenies were saying “It was man who killed the bees, in the fields and the weapon was human technology.” This is really an automatic response from them. Anything in nature takes place that seems different from before must be an anthropogenic disaster in the making. Too bad for them the first clues are pointing to a fungus.

Don’t worry. Other changes will take place in nature and they will once again blame humans and denounce technology as the method. They can’t help it. They automatically blames humans for any natural anomaly the ways Nazis blamed Jews for anything that was problem. Once you have a favored scapegoat they get the rap for everything.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

The annoyance of "energy efficient" lighbulbs.

Here’s the threat of the environmental movement. They argue that we must “save the planet” from all threats: real or imagined. And they can imagine some real whoppers. These are people who watch science fiction and conflate it with reality in order to argue utter devastation is just around the corner.

And the culprit is carbon emissions. I should say the culprit d’jour is carbon emissions. They have a long list of culprits that change in fashion faster than haute couture. Whichever one that works people into a panic is the one they will tackle.

No matter the demon they are exorcising they have the same solution. We need state control of people. Restrict the freedoms of individuals. Limit their choices. Regulate their lifestyle. Force them, coerce them, make them live for the sake of the collective. What kind of ant colony do we have it some of the ants don’t fill their functions properly?

Right now they panic d’jour involves light bulbs. People use light bulbs that not politically correct. Therefore people must be forced to use the light bulbs that are approved by the high priests of Gaia. That is until they get around to discovering that mandatory blackouts reduce carbon emissions even more.

The “energy efficient” bulbs are going to reduce carbon. They also reduce light. An energy efficient bulb that claims to be 100 watts of light actually produces much less light that a normal 100 watt bulb. I tried these bulbs. Not to save the planet but to get the much vaunted economic savings in electricity.

The first problem is that I had to turn a light on in a room where I wanted to work about five to ten minutes before actually going into the room. The bulbs have to heat up before they start to work to their maximum. So that means I had a tendency to leave the lights running when I wasn’t in the room as well. I couldn’t just go in and turn on the lights, do what I needed to do and then turn it off. If I did and came back ten minutes later I’d have to work in very substandard lighting. So I turned lights on much sooner than I wanted to and left them on much longer than I wanted. Minute by minute they might be more efficient but I ended up using more minutes on the bulb.

But, even at maximum efficiency, the light was very annoying to my eyes. It was much too dim for a start. So I ended up turning on more lights to try to compensate. I found it difficult to read with this light, it annoyed my eyes. Eventually I threw out the bloody “energy efficient” bulbs because they were so annoying to my eyes and much more difficult to use -- let alone a lot more expensive. I was told they last much longer. I had a few that didn’t last more than a couple of weeks. Perhaps I just got a bad batch. But since they were several times the normal price it was very annoying.

But it appears I shouldn’t have just chucked the little devices into the trash without thinking. Each bulb contains mercury and argon gas inside. In different contexts the Greenies hate mercury. It is consider a dangerous substance and a poison (which it is). The European Parliament, that doesn’t met without banning something, has backed a measure to ban mercury from thermometers while also considering forcing people to use light bulbs that contain mercury. I haven’t seen or used a mercuy thermometer in decades. But I do use light bulbs, several.

I can’t speak for everyone but I would suggest the mercury that is disposed through the light bulbs I will use will substantially outpace the amount I would use with a thermometer (none). And so far I haven’t seen a mercury thermometer in use by anyone I know. But they all have light bulbs.

A mercury thermometer has 500 milligrams or more of mercury. The new PC light bulbs have somewhere from 5 to 25 milligrams. In my case I have no thermometer so my emissions of mercury from it is zero. If forced to use mercury bulbs I would go through five or six per year. That is a mercury emission level of 25 to 125 milligrams up from zero. Where I am staying right now the house is larger than my one room flat where I tried these bulbs. It has around 25 bulbs in use and no thermometer. Forcing this house to convert would mean that each time the array of bulbs have been changed the owner is forced to discard, by law, the amount of mercury, which she is forbidden to discard, by law, with a thermometer. So a few hundred milligrams of mercury in a thermometer is evil but a few hundred milligrams of mercury to “stop global warming” is good. Of course the few hundred milligrams are per house unlike thermometers which are far less common.

In the US packaging for the bulbs warn people they contain poison. And it is recommended that people who accidentally touch the mercury inside the bulb should wash their hands and not touch their face. There is a small amount in each bulb but it does add up to when you realize that hundreds of millions of them will be discarded every year.

What will be pushed next is special recycling for these bulbs because they contain mercury. Already in Germany, for instance, throwing out the trash is a major effort. You have separate bins for different garbage. There is a long row of garbage bins. Some are for food items. Some are just for paper products, some are for glass, but different glass goes into different bins depending on the color of the glass. I guess we will have to add a light bulb bin.

A housewife in Prospect, Maine purchased these mercury bulbs that are now the Green fashion. She thought it would save her money, which is what was promised. But as the local paper puts it, she “is paying much more than she had ever expected to.”

She went to replace the Satanic bulb in her daughter’s bedroom. As she putting it into the fixture it fell to the floor and shattered on her shag carpet. Let me allow the local paper to describe the incident:

Bridges, who was wary of the dangers of cleaning up a fluorescent bulb, called The Home Depot where she purchased them. She was told that the bulbs had mercury in them and that she should not vacuum the area where the bulb had broken. Bridges was directed to call the Poison Control hotline. Poison Control directed her to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Environmental Protection. Upon reaching the DEP the next day, the agency offered to send a specialist out to Bridges’ house to test the air levels. The specialist arrived soon after the phone conversation and began testing the downstairs, where he found safe levels of mercury — below the state’s limit of 300 ng/m3 (nanograms per cubic meter). In the daughter’s bedroom, the levels remained well below the 300 mark, except for near the carpet where the bulb broke. There the mercury levels spiked to 1,939 ng/m3. On a bag of toys that bulb fragments had landed on, the levels of mercury were 556 ng/m3. Bridges was told by the specialist not to clean up the bulb and mercury powder by herself. He recommended the Clean Harbors Environmental Services branch in Hampden.

She followed the instructions of the government and called to have the mercury professionally removed. The problem was that the cost to clean the room of mercury and remove all items contaminated was estimated to be at least $2,000. Not having that kind of money the room has been sealed off while Bridges tries to save up the cash.

She did see if household insurance would cover the accident only to find out that since mercury is officially a pollutant it is excluded from the policy. Other government bureaucrats said she should just clean it up herself. So which department do you believe?

One government official, whose job is to sell the use of these bulbs, says that all the effort Bridges was told to go through is not necessary. He said that his department suggests the following:

1. Open the windows and ventilate. (In winter that could be very energy inefficient so only break your bulbs on warm days.)
2. Don’t vacuum as that will spread the poison.
3. Wear “appropriate safety gloves, glasses, coveralls or old clothing and a dust mask.
4. Remove the glass pieces and place in a closed container.
5. Use a disposable broom and dustpan to gather the mercury dust. Or use a commercial mercury spill kit. (They run $37.50 per kit. But think how much you are saving.)
6. Pat the area of the broken bulb with sticky tape.
7. All the items used in the cleanup (broom, dustpan, your clothes, the tapes, etc) “should be treated as ‘universal waste’ or a household hazardous waste” and taken to the local government site.

The agency he works with actually suggests a bit more on their website. You know that carpet on the floor where the bulb broke -- they suggest “the mercury contaminated section should be cut out and disposed of as hazardous waste.” Since you aren’t going to have carpeting with huge holes in the middle of it it appears that you cut out the one section as hazardous waste and throw the rest away. Add the cost of new carpeting to the savings from the bulb.

They also say the “spill area should be washed with a dilute calcium sulfide or nitric acid solution.” They also warn that mercury vapor “is of special concern from broken fluorescent light bulbs.”

Are you saving money yet?

And the proflourescent advocate for Maine said that if one used the new bulbs carefully they “shouldn’t have immediate health risks.” Now I pay attention to what people say especially spokesmen for the government who tend to use weasel words so it sounds as if they say one thing while actually saying another.

If I were the reporter I would have asked him why he said it “shouldn’t” pose a danger instead of saying it “wouldn’t” pose a danger. Saying “shouldn’t” implies it might be a problem. Secondly, I’d ask him why he only referred to “immediate health risks”. Why use the qualified “immediate” before “health risks”? That sounds as if he is leaving room for possible long-term risks.

In light of my experiences and the costs that are associated with one broken bulb (if you follow official suggestions) I have to question the much vaunted “savings” of these bulbs. Me, I’m going to stock up on the bulbs they want to erradicate. They are cheaper per bulb. They work instantly without warmup periods. They give off more light. The light they give off doesn’t annoy my eyes. If one breaks I sweep it up and throw it away. I don’t have to dress like something out of Ghostbusters, throw away my clothes, the broom, dustpan, and the carpeting and make a special trip to a toxic waste dump to do so.


The perfect threat

There is nothing more human than the quest for perfection. Equally there is nothing more human that the failure to obtain it.

We all have ideal concepts of how things ought to be were we living in the perfect world. We often don't agree on those ideal concepts.

To the rational person such ideals point us in a direction. They guide us. We need them.

However I've often seen this quest for perfection used as an excuse for some horribly inhumane actions.

Let's look at a couple of examples. In the perfect world people not only respect one another but show human kindness. In the perfect world we don't want anyone to starve, to sleep in the cold, to die alone, to have medical problems that go untreated.

The Left applauds those ideals. And when Leftist regimes have tried to force people to be "fair" and "kind" and to give "to each according to his need" the result has been Gulags, misery, starvation, murder and torture.

The Right, and I use Left and Right in the traditional way here, wants people to be moral. Ask them and they'll produce a huge litany of traits that would be part and parcel of the moral man or woman.

Alas people are not perfect. They make mistakes.

We classical liberals realize this. Now there are three kinds of imperfections. One is when we violate the rights of others. We usually call these crimes. These are actions that violate the life, liberty or property of another person.

Second, there is the issue of vices. A vice is something that is harmful to oneself but which does not violate the rights of others.

Third, there is the issue of human decency. It's etiquette but a bit more as well. These are the things in life that one "ought" to do because they make life easier for everyone. It's the "please" and "thanks" of life. You don't fart in the lift. It's not nice. You treat people with respect.

For the liberal (and I only mean classical liberal) the issue of state intervention is limited to the first category alone. But for the Left statist and the Right statist the other two categories are of great importance. They want perfection there and won't stop until they have it.

They are thus willing to coerce perfection out of people. Of course they assume that their own values and standards are the perfect ones to which everyone else must be moulded.

The Nanny nazis wants a perfectly safe society. They even have the Precautionary Principle to impose it. Nothing shall be done until it is proven safe. Well, nothing can be proven perfectly safe. So nothing gets done. It's the reason that people who hold this view are against almost everything.

If pesticides on vegetables raise the risk of cancer by some infinitely small percentage then stop the use of pesticides - never mind that the same pesticides lower the cost of vegetables which in turns means they are eaten more often. And ignore the fact that the anti - cancer benefits of the vegetables more than out weigh the risks. Just ban the pesticide and go for organic.

The safety police want our roads to be perfectly safe. Remember air bags. I was recently watching an old video of a debate between Milton Friedman and Jill Claybrook. Claybrook was one of Nader's people who got some position in the Carter government that put her in charge of "safety". Of course she took the usual view that no cost is too much if it saves "just one life."

She was arguing for mandatory air bags in cars. In the US air bags are now pretty routine and poor Jill didn't realize we don't live in a perfect world. The air bags work - too well. They go off when they shouldn't. They also have a terrible tendency. Small children, when hit with the force of the air bag, can have their necks broken. The accident may not kill them but the air bags can.

I saw a documentary not too long ago about accidents. It showed how air bags sometimes fail to engage at the time of impact. Unfortunately they often do engage afterwards. Rescue workers have been severely harmed because as they are are extracting someone from a vehicle the air bag engages hitting them with it's full force. They had actual video footage of this happening and it's rather shocking to see.

Market liberals have long noted that life is not about perfect states. It's about trade offs. The utopian who is ready to mould people thinks perfection can be attained. We don't think so. We realise that if you have more of one thing you have less of something else. The perfect state is where you can have your cake and eat it too but it's not our world.

Take the example of government regulations imposed to protect young children on air flights. Now the overwhelming majority of flights take off and land with no problems at all. Very few times do such planes hit severe turbulence and they rarely actually crash. It's the safest form of travel known to man.

Airlines allowed parents to hold young children in their laps on the flight. This meant they didn't have to buy a second seat. The safety patrol noted that in unusual circumstances - like a crash - the parent may not be able to hold the child. So they want all flights to ban this practice. It's for the children they'll tell you.

What is the trade off? Well, parents who flew with young children may not be able to afford to fly. Some will forgo travel altogether. Others will do something else. They may find that driving is now the cheaper alternative. The problem is that driving is far riskier. Children who are priced off the flight due to the extra ticket cost, and who end up in a car, are more likely to be harmed than before. Perfect safety eluded us once again.

Liberalism is merely a political philosophy for living in this world. It's how imperfect people can minimise problems between themselves. We don't fight over who gets to use a piece of property because we recognise property rights. When we ignore property rights conflict is exacerbated. The rule of "mine and thine" is a way of helping people get along. The concept of rights is basically a property right to one's life. It says that each individual is sovereign over their own property, their own mind and their own body.

When government starts to intrude on those areas conflict is created. The moralist on the Right says that obscenity must be banned and he must be allowed to define what is obscene. The result is conflict between him and the people he wishes to control. It gets worse when the PC Left joins in and wants to ban other ideas or images. Government is all too willing to placate both and the result is a steady decay in freedom.

When government decides it has the right to take the wealth of some for the benefits of others we automatically create thousands of factions. Each wants to manipulate the political process to maximise their benefits while limiting their costs. We call them special interest groups. But they are gangs which are basically war with all the other gangs. Conflict is created or where it already existed it's made worse.

When rights are respected there is a tendency toward more harmony. Today most people accept the idea of freedom of religion. We don't fight anymore over which church should exist and what it should teach. Each person is free to make up his own mind. It wasn't always that way and much of history is the history of wars conducted in the name of religion. When the right to individual religious expression was recognised the conflict ceased.

The Liberal wants to limit state intrusion to the protection of basic rights - which means the control of crime. He knows that to the degree that the state exceeds those boundaries that human conflict is magnified. He also knows that when we try to have the state handle issues in the quest for perfection that it's highly unlikely to do so. Instead we experience trade offs. What we think we gain in one area we lose in another. We also forget that there are often unintended consequences which undo much of the "good" that might have been achieved.

Liberals want freedom. They don't think it will create a perfect society. It does create a society where the incentives to get things right operate. People will still make mistakes. Some people will still harm themselves. Some will still fart in the lift. We wont' like it. We might yearn for them to adopt our "perfect" way of living. But we know that they must be free to make these choices. When they aren't free things become very messy indeed.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Drugs & socialism: the more you succeed the more you fail.

The U.S. Coast Guard, which today is another policing body, claims that they “captured” a ship in international waters and boarded it to find it was “filled” with cocaine. It allegedly contained 21 tones of the white powder and was the “largest bust on the water, ever, in history.”

Drug warriors are cheering it as a great victory for the moral and the pure. I would like to argue that it is not a victory by any means and explain why shortly. But first I want to say two things.

If the ship was in international waters then under what authority did the Coast Guard board it and seize it? Now I realize that the neo-cons thinks that “national defense” includes every nation in the world. But I didn’t know the Coast Guard had authority outside of U.S. waters. No matter what was on that ship I have to question the legal authority of U.S. policing forces to seize ships on the high seas. That used to be called piracy.

Second, of course it’s the “largest” “ever”, blah, blah, blah. Drug warriors have been having the largest seizures quite regularly since “I am not a crook” Nixon started the Drug War. There is a penchant among the Drug Warriors to exaggerate a tad bit. Actually they lie, a lot, frequently, and in rather heaping proportions. It’s good for their budget. The press reports it. No body really double checks and they use it to demand more powers, more funding, more personnel and big government gets bigger. Actually the days of big government are gone. We now have gigantic government.

I also think we need to ask if this “success” is actually a success or not. The Drug War is a lot like socialism. The more “successful” it is the harder it fails. Let us assume the sea pirates were telling the truth and they confiscated 21 tons of cocaine. What actually did they accomplish?

Well, obviously the removed cocaine from the supply chain. How did that effect the demand? It didn’t. Demand for cocaine remains unchanged but the supply has been reduced. Now go to Econ 101 for a minute and ask yourself what a reduced supply, with a steady demand, does?

It increases the price! Of what? Of cocaine. So removing 21 tons of cocaine from the market pushes up the price of the cocaine that wasn’t removed from the market. One drug cartel, who ever shipped the drug, took a bit of a loss here. But that is only one. Meanwhile all the competitors to that cartel are reaping windfall profits.

The Coast Guard pushed up the price of cocaine and managed to hurt one cartel while rewarding all the others. Everyone else sees prices, and profits, increase. That is the result of a Drug War success.

Now go to day two of Econ 101. If you increase profits in an industry what happens to suppliers in that industry? The number of suppliers increases. Higher profits only attract additional dealers at all levels of the supply chain. That is the result of a Drug War success.

Second, let us look at how this impacts on crime. There are X number of cocaine users out there, some of them are true addicts. They need to find a way to cover the higher costs of their supply. We do know that some addicts engage in criminal activities to pay for their usage. Let us assume that our local addict, for the sake of illustration, mugs grandmothers after they cash their social security check.

Every week he has to locate two grandmothers to mug to pay for his habit. The Coast Guard, or some other Drug Warrior, has a major bust. One so successful that they cut the supply of drugs dramatically and drug prices double. Our local addict now has to mug four grandmothers instead. That is a the result of a Drug War success.

Of course with higher profit at stake the drug gangs in the country will fight extra hard to secure turf for their dealers. It is more lucrative to do so. Drive by shootings increase, there is increased gang warfare. More people die, some just bystanders. That is the result of a Drug War success.

The sad reality is that the Drug War dramatically increases crime in numerous ways.

All markets, even markets for substances deemed immoral or criminal, have feedback loops. Every action creates a series of actions leading to specific consequences. And these happens whether or not you want them to happen. The reality of seizing illegal drugs is that it raises the price of drugs, rewards dealers who didn’t get caught, hands windfall profits to the other cartels and increases crime on the street. With success like that how can we stand it?

Socialism is similar. Each socialist intervention into the market creates unintended consequences. It sets in motion a chain of events leading to specific results. Push up the cost of labor through well-intentioned measures and you decreased the demand for labor. The net result is that you make some workers a little better off and other workers a lot worse off.

Increase welfare payments and you find the number of people “needing” welfare increases. Pay for that increase by increasing taxes and you find production decreases relative to what it would have been. Everywhere you go you find that these intricate feedback loops seem to confound your best laid central plains. And the more successful you are in imposing these solutions the sooner the inevitable collapse.

The War on Drugs and socialism both, for the most part, are supported by people with good intentions. Too bad intentions have no impact on those feedback loops. In the end both end up doing a great deal of harm.

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Total control of guns is total control of people.

Our discussion of the issues revolving around the horrific events at Virginia Tech has literally brought in tens of thousands of new readers. And in that mixture are a few who have advocated, as one of them put it, “total control” of guns. Their positions is that all weapons must be confiscated and severe penalties imposed on people who own firearms for self-defense.

There is a certain naive simplicity to that which is frightening. What they advocate is a zero tolerance policy akin to the War on Drugs, which itself was just a reincarnation of the previous total war on an evil commodity: alcohol. Obviously since both of those were such smashing successes they want to repeat the exercise.

England followed the same logic. In 1988 it first banned semiautomatic and pump-action rifles, short shotguns and a few others firearms. Law abiding citizens turned in their weapons. Criminals did not. With criminals feeling safer the number of crimes committed with guns escalated. Then the totalitarian idea of absolute control took hold. So for all practical purpose it is now virtually impossible to own a handgun in the UK. Following that ban the number of crimes committed by armed criminals jumped again.

Street gangs in various sections of the UK have no problem obtaining firearms even though they are entirely illegal. The Southwark neighborhood of London had 266 crimes committed with firearms that were reported in 2006. The Lambeth neighborhood had 239, Lewisham had 185. Apparently someone forgot to tell criminals they weren’t supposed to own firearms.

Det. Supt. Kevin Davis heads the Trident program to tackle youth/gang related crime in London. he says that more “teens are resorting to carrying or using guns.” Claudia Webber, an advisor to Trident says that in the gang culture guns are “an everyday accessory, a fashionable accessory, that young people want to be seen with.” This with what amounts to be an almost total ban. The very few loopholes that are left are not the source of firearms for gangs. Criminals almost never purchase guns legally.

Not long ago the British government conceded that one in three young criminals own or have use of a firearm. When guns were confiscated 162,000 weapons were turned in by law-abiding citizens. Apparently criminals didn’t join the queue. At the time police estimated there were 250,000 illegal guns in the UK. They now believe there are 3 million illegal firearms in the country and said “criminals are more willing than ever to use them.”

One result is that criminals in the UK are more brazen. In England 53 per cent of burglaries on homes take place while the residents are home, only 13 per cent in America take place under similar circumstance. British criminals don’t mind breaking in while people are home since they know that the residents have been disarmed. Criminals in the US are worried the homeower is armed. One result is that numerous elderly people in the UK get battered around by young thugs. A proud moment for the “total control” advocates. Yet the victim disarmament Gun Control Network calls the UK policies “the gold standard” of gun control.

The British Home Office has conceded: “We recognise there is a continuing problem with the use of guns by criminals and that it has increased over recent years.” Gold standard indeed.

The London Telegraph wrote that following the imposition of gun control “the total number of recorded crimes went up by almost 800,000 at a time when numbers in France and Germany were virtually stable and in America were falling dramatically.”

The ban on guns has meant that black market weapons smuggled into the country are plentiful. The left-leaning Guardian says that sawed-off shotguns “can now be bought illegally for between £50 and £200 according to Home Office research. A purpose-built 9mm handgun, which is easier to conceal than a shotgun, is available for £1000-£1,400 on the back streets of Britain while those wanting “a gangster image” can buy a machine gun for £800.” The paper also said “increasingly firearms had become a normal part of the systematic violence found in the street-level criminal economy. They had assumed a symbolic significance as they became associated with criminal affluence and were conflated with status and the potential for violence.” The gold standard, indeed.
British citizens are now routinely monitored by closed circuit cameras throughout their daily life. And gun crime is up, illegal weapons have increased, more people are being killed than before. If this sort of constant surveillance is not working then what sort of police state measures will be necessary to make a total ban on guns workable? Apparently the rise in crime following gun control brought about new control measures to undo the damage of gun control. The result is a society that is rapidly turning into a police state.

Let us consider a community where there is total control and see if prohibition works. In prison one has extremely limited Constitutional rights. You can be searched at any time of the day. Armed guards can ransack your living quarters at will. You are constantly being monitored by agents of the government. You eat when they tell you to eat. You are allowed to have friends visit only under the most stringent of circumstances. Your every mover is under government control. You quite literally can’t sit on the toilet and expect privacy. Yet prisoners still use illegal drugs.

Billions and billions of dollars have been spent to impose total control on illegal drugs. Across American heavily armed SWAT teams routinely carry out raids on homes of suspected “drug dealers”. They shoot to kill. Every year innocent people who were wrongly targeted are killed. But it’s “war” and they are collateral damage. Penalties for drug possession in the US are bizarrely severe. Children are encouraged in state schools to spy on their parents and turn them in to the police. There is a constant barrage of propaganda. And drug use today remains almost the same as it was when the “War on Drugs” was started.

So precisely how much more severe will police monitoring have to become to impose “total control” on guns? How much of the Bill of Rights, beyond just the 2nd Amendment, will have to be shredded in order to obtain this control? And does total control mean stripping police of firearms?

Crime will escalate under total control. First, a nation that can’t prevent tons of cocaine from entering the country can’t prevent firearms from entering. The reality is that the most violent, anti-social criminals will have guns. Only their victims will be disarmed. Perhaps even the police will be disarmed. Crime will escalate. As in the UK criminals will become more brazen and more homeowners will be hurt or killed by thugs with superior strength or firearms. Certainly the weaker members of society,those least able to fight off a hulking criminal, will become prime targets.

And there is still the annoying issue of an unarmed population and an armed government. Governments have a tendency to become oppressive. Throughout history they have slaughtered hundreds of millions of people. More people have been killed by governments in the 20th century, or by agents of the state, than by run of the mill criminals.

Disarming a population only means that if a totalitarian state arises the people are defenseless and unable to prevent their own oppression. What is worse is that the “total control” measures that will be necessary to wipe out private firearms will go a long way toward establishing that very kind of society.

And this leads, not to a slippery slope, but a free fall. How do we prevent firearms from outside a country from entering the country? Ah, the “total control” advocates will tell you that we need international controls. So the dictatorial regime necessary to wipe out private firearms will have to be a global regime. It would require authority over all nation states. The powers necessary to impose “total control” mean that they increase in scope constantly and are centralized. The end result is a massive global government that is forced by the doctrine of “total control” to monitor and regulate people in ways never before seen on this planet.

The tendency is toward dictatorship. And with the people disarmed and the massive State having vast, monopoly powers you can kiss what few remaining freedoms you have good bye. And who do our Left-wing “total control” friends think will run this state? Some kindly, benevolent, gentle soul, a reincarnation of Ghandi perhaps? Or maybe the reborn Mother Theresa? History shows that the men who rise to the top of those kind of political systems are more similar to Alberto Gonzales and George Bush than to a Ghandi. It requires a world run by the Bushs of the world with legislation that makes the Patriot Act look like child’s play.

Of course the reality is that the police won’t be disarmed at all. They will become more and more militarized in order to deal with the millions of new criminals created by a total ban on guns. And they will become more and more likely to use excessive force. So expect more and more out of control police departments. Or do we centralize their authority as well? No doubt we will with only worse results.

Now the one time in my life that a criminal, with an illegal weapon, shot at me he was using a weapon that was not exactly a Smith & Wesson. He used a weapon that was literally home made. There is no shortage of instructions on how to make your own gun at home. And now we get the mission creep inherent in all state programs.

Under the war on drugs the government has increasingly made life more and more difficult for the vast majority of Americans who don’t use illegal drugs. Grow lights help grow plants including marijuana. So people with grow lights have had their homes raided even when the plants are tomatoes. One might take certain ingredients from cold medicines and use them in producing illegal drugs. So your ability to treat your cold is severely restricted. To prevent “drug abuse” hypodermic syringes were tightly regulated. Addicts didn’t disappear, they shared needles and they, and their sexual partners, the sexual partner of their partners, became a hot house environment spreading HIV.

“Informers” who don’t exist give cops, who do exist, the names of drug dealers and innocent elderly women are murdered by armed cops. All these things take place because the state finds it must do more and more to control drugs. It must control many aspects of human life which are only tangentially related to drugs.

So now we need a government that doesn’t just regulate firearms but also regulates the tools and the materials that can be used to produce firearms. Total control would have to mean censorship to stop people from learning how to produce home-made weapons. It would mean regulating lathes which can be used, piping which can be used and so on. Just as grow lights, bongs, and rolling papers are under increasing state control a war on guns would require censorship and state control of the materials and tools that can potentially be used to produce firearms.

When antigun activists talk about “total control” to stop guns that is precisely what they mean. They want the same kind of police state mentality created by the War on Drugs but bigger, better, more powerful, more deadly. They want a police state but a police state on steroids. Perhaps some don’t want that. I doubt when the War on Drugs started the supporters in the 1960s envisioned an America riddled with prisons, violent gangs with drug monopolies in the inner cities and innocent people being gunned down by paramilitary police squads. But that is the path they chose to follow. And if you get on a road that points to a police state then don’t be shocked when you wake up in a police state. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Medieval thinking permeats Papal book.

In a couple of weeks the English edition of Pope Benedict's new book is to hit the market, itself a bit amusing, since he has a little hissy fit in the book about markets.

Catholicism is often a religion that is firmly stuck in medieval thinking. Even now there is no shortage of Catholics, especially those of the Mel Gibson variety, who have a perception of Jews firmed rooted in the thinking of the Dark Ages. And the reality is that Catholic thinking regarding economics has hardly made any progress at all. I am aware there are some market advocates who are intent on selling the theory that the Vatican is a champion of markets but this does not seem to be the case and never has been. It appears to me, at least, more an attempt for them to reconcile their religious presumptions with their economic knowledge than a useful analysis of what Vatican officials actually think.

Benedict doesn’t even seem to grasp the fundamental nature of markets in any sense of the word. He writes: “Confronted with the abuse of economic power, with the cruelty of capitalism that degrades man into merchandise, we have begun to see more clearly the dangers of wealth and we understand in new way what Jesus intended in warning us about wealth.”

Of course it should be noted that the man lives in a palace, is chauffeured around the world, has servants, cooks and I sincerely doubt he ever scrubs his own toilet. Whatever dangers wealth provides it apparently doesn’t touch him and his jewels, his limos, and his palace. I know that Catholics will argue these things belong to the church. But surely if wealth is dangerous it is dangerous to the church as well as to businessmen. Throughout history the Papal power has quite voraciously accumulated wealth for itself while preaching to their followers that wealth itself is inherently bad.

Many people do take Papal discussions seriously. And while I sometimes attended Catholic Mass as a child I was not raised a Catholic and these day I’m a proud secularist without the tinge of religion. But I always found it odd that we should give any credence to Papal discussions on economics. And I did so for the same reason that I thought it absurd to listen to self-proclaimed celibates regarding sex.

So, this man who has comforts in life far beyond those of even many millionaires, is preaching to the world about the dangers of wealth. A man who has never had to earn a living in the marketplace preaches about the evils of markets and a man who allegedly has never had sex is considered a major authority on human sexuality. It is hard for me to take any of that seriously.

That the man gets his facts wrong is hardly surprising. It wouldn’t be the first time. According to the Washington Post: “Benedict decries how the wealthy have ‘plundered’ Africa and the Third World both materially and spiritually, through colonialism. He criticizes lifestyles of the wealthy, citing ‘victims of drugs, of human trafficking, of sexual tourism, people destroyed on the inside, who are empty despite the abundance of material goods.”

His caricature of the wealthy is as crude as the traditional Catholic caricature of Jews. The only difference is that many people think it fine to resort to such offensive attacks on the wealthy of the world.

If the wealthy plundered Africa through colonialism why was Africa richer then, than it is today? Don’t assume I support colonialism. I don’t. It was stupid and costly. It did some dumb and dangerous things. It established centralized governments and drew nonsensical borders both of which created the incentives for continual conflict. But the reality is that much of Africa was better off under colonial rule than they are today. What was poured into those countries from the West exceeded what was taken out.

What is worse is that Benedict is giving comfort to every tyrant and despot in Africa. Men like Mugabe have used the “colonial” card constantly. Mugabe destroys his own people and the claims that “colonialism” is to blame. It is pure rubbish. Colonialism in Africa died decades ago. Nor does it explain why former colonies around the world do extremely well for themselves. Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, were all under colonial rule. The miseries in Africa are, for the most part, inflicted by dictators and Benedict has just handed those monsters another tool to use to oppress their own people. He is not only economically illiterate but foolish.

What Benedict ignores is that the funds that were poured into Africa came from one set of pockets and the wealth that was taken out was placed into another set. Colonialism did redistribute wealth but it was from the pockets of taxpayers in the colonial powers and into the pockets of the owners of those enterprises favored by the governments. That is not a feature of capitalism but mercantilism. Plundering “wealth” from Africa is like taking away the sight of the blind. It had no wealth to speak of.

It surely was a odd form of plundering. Colonial powers walked into a region where the average life span was abysmally low and where the accumulated wealth of the average person was a hut, some crude utensils and not much else. Medical care didn’t exist only attempts at using magic. There was no infrastructure of any kind in most of Africa. There certainly were some areas that had trade and so forth. But the standard of living was shockingly bad.

What was taken out? For the most part resources that weren’t being used by the locals. The indigenous people were not engaged in a diamond trade that was stolen from them. The gold mines were not ripped from their possession. Even Mugabe’s hated “white farmers” of Zimbabwe cleared land that had not been farmed before and created the farms that fed the nation well until Mugabe nationalized the farms and imposed famine on his people.

Africa is not poor because it was “plundered” as the Pope seems to fantasize. It was poor long before the first colonial power appeared on the scene. Wealth began dramatically increasing for the “poor” during the colonial era. After “liberation” most African countries went backwards in economic terms with poverty increasing. Only in recent years have there been a few bright spots on the African continent.

Oddly those bright sparks seem to be in nations that implement policies more in line with capitalism. The anti-capitalist nations are the ones with the worst poverty. If capitalism is impoverishing Africa the Pope will have to explain why the most capitalist countries in Africa are prospering.

Benedict’s idea that the wealthy are plundering the Third World through drugs, human trafficking, sex slavery and the likes sounds he’s been watching too many late night American TV dramas. I’m surprised he didn’t say that the wealthy are drugging people and harvesting their kidneys.

The reality is that the wealthy of the world don’t rush off to the Third World to sell cocaine to people who have no money. Very, very, very few people engage in “sex tourism”. And last I heard one of the prime locations for “sex tourism” was the impoverished, Third World city of Amsterdam.

Benedict decries the “cruelty of capitalism”. The rich in the non-capitalist world, outside the tiny ruling elite, do less well than the middle class in the West. The poor of America live lives that would be considered upper middle class in much of the Third World. Western trade with the Third World is relatively small and ought to be increased. Trade produces wealth, it doesn’t destroy wealth. Free trade requires an exchange where all parties to the exchange benefit otherwise they would not make that change. And what the people of Africa want is more trade not less. There is more support for capitalism in the typical African village then there is in the College of Cardinals.

Benedict seems to believe that wealth is a zero sum game. That the only way for one person to gain wealth is for another to lose it. Consider that at one point virtually the entire world was poor. If wealth is merely a redistribution of existing wealth then how did wealth come into existence in the first place? Wealth is created and the creation of wealth must always precede the distribution of wealth.

Americans don’t have automobiles because they plundered them from Third World indigenous peoples, as Marxist and the Pope would like to think. They have cars because individuals discovered how to produce cars and then established factors in the West to produce those cars. And what started as a luxury in the West is now a relatively common sight in the Third World.

On more than one occasion I’ve driven though one of the vast rural settlements of Africa. And while the homes might be extremely modest, even poor, by Western standards I was surprised at how many cars were parked outside. And the more insecure the property rights the worse the home and the better the car. When governments, such as Mugabe’s, routinely destroy these settlements, people don’t invest in housing but will invest in property they can move, such as a car.

This is not to say there has been no injustice done by individuals from the West to individuals in the Third World. But the “West” as some sort of collective entity has not. Nor have the “wealthy” as some collective entity. Again this sort of crude thinking should have died with the Dark Ages. If Mr. Bernstein acted badly his actions were attributed to Jews as a collective body. If Cecil Rhodes acted badly it is the fault of the West or the “wealthy”. This sort of scapegoating is beneath the Pope. It is the sort of thinking that oppressed Europe for centuries. It is crude, cruel and just plain stupid.

Photo: The little Vatican trinket in the photo is a model of a church made from gold and platinum. What was the danger of wealth again?

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

The failure of the state and national tragedies.

The carnage witnessed at Virginia Tech induces pain in all rational people, it causes us to reflect and rethink. We ask for explanations. Long ago it was suggested that the most likely explanation is the simplest. This horror was caused because a mentally unbalanced individual was able to find a large body of defenseless people and shoot them while all the governmental bodies established to protect those people failed miserably.

“No gun zones” have acted like magnets to crazed killers. And I certainly understand the motivation and logic behind the idea. But good intentions are not enough and the logic is flawed. The only people who obey the rule are the vast majority of law abiding gun owners not insane individuals intent on making a name for themselves through mass slaughter. These zones leave people within them helpless and reliant upon the various agencies of government to respond in a timely manner.

There are two problems. One is that government often does not respond in a timely manner. Two, even when it does respond quickly a few minutes is all it takes to snuff out the lives of dozens of people. If we are to have a government that can respond as quickly as armed citizens could then we must have one where the policing agents are as pervasive as honest gun owners. And that, quite simply, would mean a police state.

Left-wing gadfly Alexander Cockburn is often right on issues, hence the term gadfly. I think his record is less than perfect but it’s good enough to warrant considering what he has to say on issues. He tells his fellow progressives that they better rethink how they have dealt with crime. There is much justified outrage on the Left (and some on the Right as well) about the role of SWAT teams. The American police force has become militarized. And with their tanks and automatic weapons and body armour they have become a threat to the life, liberty and property of every citizen.

This blog, and others, has regularly reported how these paramilitary forces have acted as if they were in a war. No surprise, that is how they are trained. The net result is that they destroy and kill and far, far too often the people they destroy and kill are innocent people. One of the most absurd claims of the victim disarmament lobby has been the cry that if citizens are allowed to defend themselves they will make mistakes and we ought to trust the police.

The same people, when they calm down, breath deeply for a while and then are asked to talk about the police launch into similar tirades about the treat of paramilitary police forces. Trust the police when we disarm you and once you are disarmed you aren’t supposed to the trust the police. Okay, that makes sense! Not.

Cockburn suggests the Left consider how these two issues are related.

“The left complains about SWAT teams, but doesn’t see that the progressives bear a lot of responsibility for their rise. If you confer the task of social invigilation and protection to professional janissaries -- cops--and deny the right of self and social protection to ordinary citizens, you end up with crews of over-armed thugs running amok under official license, terrorizing the disarmed citizens. In the end you have the whole place run by the Army or the federalized National Guard, as is increasingly evident now with the overturning of the Posse Comitatus laws forbidding any role for the military in domestic law enforcement.”

Every time a crime of the magnitude of a Virginia Tech or Columbine takes place police agencies and government bureaucrats make a raw grab for expanding their power. America is evolving into a police state at a frightening pace. And these expanded powers will not be restricted to only the cases that warrant them. They will creep into more and more aspects of daily living. When SWAT teams were organized we were told it was for situations precisely like the one we just witnessed. In the 1980s they were called out about 3,000 times per year. Even then you can see their use was not that widely warranted. Now they turn up about 40,000 per year. As Radley Balko notes: “Most ‘call-outs’ were to serve warrants on nonviolent drug offenders.”

From an “elite” groups of cops on call for the unusual we are instead seeing these teams used for routine policing. Balko notes: “Armed with free surplus military gear from the Pentagon, SWAT teams have multiplied at a furious pace. Tactics once reserved for rare, volatile situations such as hostage takings, bank robberies and terrorist incidents increasingly are being used for routine police work.”

One of the most openly fascistic police officials in the US is Joe Arpaio, who likes to call himself the “toughest sheriff in America”. He sent out his SWAT team, in their tank, to raid a Phoenix home. They first fired tear gas into the home. Then they managed to set the house afire somehow. A puppy inside the house tried to escape the flames and the police officers chased it back inside where it perished. And the reason for the raid: they were were arresting someone for traffic tickets. Meanwhile while burning down houses and killing dogs the tank they had parked in front of the house was rolling down the hill. The Einsteins had forgot to set the brake.

It rolled directly into a car where a mother and her young child had been sitting. She saw the tank rolling toward them and grabbed the child and escaped with seconds to spare. Don’t believe me? Here’s the photo of the incident.

I am not a person of faith, that is I am not the least bit religious. So I honestly don’t understand the religious mentality of some fundamentalist types in the political Left who have an undying, unalterable faith in big government.

When you strip people of the right to defend themselves the only protection they have left is government. But what happens when it is government from whom people need protection? Today the people of Zimbabwe need protection from the government, ditto the people of North Korea, Cuba, and still, China. Ditto for the people of Russia, most Islamic states and much of Africa. And, increasingly this applies to people in the US and England as well. Governments run amok, they do it all the time.

But let us pretend that never happens. Let us fantasize a world of benevolent, happy police agents on every corner. Still they fail to protect people well. In dangerous situations these SWAT teams set up a perimeter and tend to sit there and wait. Cockburn wrote:

When the mass murder session began in the engineering building the police cowered behind their cruisers till Cho Seung-Hui finished off the last batch of his 32 victims, then killed himself. Then the police bravely rushed in, started sticking their guns in the faces of the traumatized students, screaming at them to freeze or be shot. Similar timidity was on display in Columbine, where Harris and Klebold killed students in the library over a period of 15 minutes and then committed suicide. The police finally mustered up the nerve to enter the library over two hours late

Government is very good a waiting when situations are dangerous. I lived in San Francisco during the “big one” (1989 not 1906). When the Cypress viaduct of Interstate Highway 880 pancaked, trapping dozens of people and killing many, the government set up a perimeter and sat there debating what to do. People were dying and bureaucrats were discussing the costs and benefits of saving them. Private citizens were rescuing people, bureaucrats were having donuts and coffee and debating the issue.

The residents of the impoverished neighborhood surrounding the viaduct improvised ladders and climbed up to the trapped people. One by one they saved lives. The professionals turned up and halted this sort of “vigilante” rescues. They ordered the people to go home and let them “do their job” and then they did nothing! Angry residents sneaked around to the other side of the highway and continued their rescues surreptitiously.

Over and over, at times of national crisis we see the inertia of bureaucracy drag whatever good intentions exist down in a stagnancy that is deadly. The paranoid delusions of conspiracists aside the reading of the 9/11 Commission Report is a long discourse on ineptness and bureaucratic bungling. From the investigation of the terrorists, from security at the airports, to the response of the government during the hijackings we witnessed a lumbering dinosaur trying to respond to quick moving events. It couldn’t cope.

Who did respond? Who learned the lessons of that day quickly? The passengers of United Airlines Flight 93. They were the only ones who successfully stopped a hijacked plane from reaching its target.

Katrina was a perfect opportunity for government to prove it could efficiently and effectively save lives during a disaster. Few other disasters come with such advanced warning. Tracking a hurricane begins days, sometimes weeks before it hits land. And everyone knew Katrina was coming. And government failed miserably. Bureaucrats couldn’t offer protection to people left behind but ran around disarming law abiding people. Government couldn’t get aid and supplies to the victims but it made sure that no one else helped them either. It closed down and stifled every private relief effort it could find.

Government always wants to monopolize response to itself. And it always does a shitty job of responding.

The Virginia Tech massacre was a textbook example of the failure of government. The killer was a deranged individual. People who dealt with him were terrified of him. He was reported to campus police several times. Professors reported him, students reported him, and the government bureaucrats who run the school said there was nothing they could do. They were stifled by regulations and rules at every turn.

They couldn’t tell the parents of the killer, that would violate regulations on privacy. They basically couldn’t do very much. The killer was sent to a mental institution by a judge. But the school had to let him back on campus, regulations you know. Regulations did exist to forbid firearms on campus. That disarmed the victims not the killer. Lot of good that did.

Government regulations clearly say that someone who has been hospitalized for mental instability is not qualified to buy a weapon. And they have bureaucrats to make sure that doesn’t happen. If you pass a background check then you can buy a weapon. If it is shown you did time in the loony bin you don’t get the gun. The killer got his gun. Why? Well, it seems that the one bureaucracy that incarcerated the killer didn’t bother to tell the other bureaucracy, that does the background checks, that this man had mental problems.

We had government police who knew for several hours in advance that a killer was on the campus of Virginia Tech. They supposed he had left. They had no evidence he left, they just supposed it. Thirty of the victims died that day after the police arrived on campus. We had a university bureaucracy which took hours to send out an e-mail warning to the student body.

Over and over government failed to protect the people it had disarmed. And yet the faithful, with their hymns of praise, light their candles before the shrine of the state and call the supplicants to prayer. “Oh, mighty State, ye who we worship and adore, we beseech thee to bless thy servants and bestow thy hand of protection upon us.” And as so often is the case with this deity, it is deaf to their pleas.

There may well be some things that government can do, and do fairly well. Quick response is not one of them. What we have seen is that the agents created for quick response are poor at responding to those situations but good at killing unarmed, non-violent individuals. And what does the victim disarmament lobby want: more of the same!

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

England Prevails.

I’ve spent the last few months in a small town on the English coast. Part of my day includes grocery shopping at the local store. And shopping here regularly shocks me. I will never adjust to the absolutely unrealistic prices for food nor will I ever grow fond of “traditional English” cooking, something HL Mencken once described as one step removed from cannibalism.

But the real horror here has been how far the UK has gone toward being a police state under the watch of the loathsome Tony Blair.

Irving Berlin, in 1946, wrote some lyrics for the musical Annie Get Your Gun which included the line: “Anything you can do I can do better; I can do anything better than you.” That encapsulates the relationship between Blair and King George of the Imperial Republic of the United States, Afghanistan, Iraq and soon to be announced. Unfortunately what they try to outdo each other with is authoritarian violations of civil liberties and expansions of state power.

But back to the grocery store for a minute. I’m leaving the UK in a few days and I wanted to pick up some items to take with, mainly since where I’m going the groceries are not in English and often that makes it hard for me to find specific items. And one item I needed was vanilla extract.

I’ve bought vanilla extract in three different countries before. No hassle. Today was slightly different. As the $8 bottle of vanilla extract was being scanned the clerk mumbled something. I had to have her repeat it. I still didn’t get what she was saying. It was one of those English accents that requires subtitles. The third time, and with a little help from the amused gentleman in line behind me, I finally got what she was saying.

She was under 18 years of age. So she is forbidden by law from pressing the buttons on the cash register to ring up the sale of the vanilla extract. I can still buy it, for now at least, but she can’t push the buttons without becoming a criminal of some kind. So we have to wait for a supervisor to come over and inspect the suspicious customer wishing to buy a small bottle of vanilla extract. Apparently the Nannys in Whitehall are worried that underaged individuals will buy expensive bottles of vanilla extract to consume in sufficient quantities to get plastered. From what I’ve seen the local yobs have no difficulty finding other forms of intoxication that are far cheaper and much more efficient.

And today’s post brought more interesting news. Local council elections are coming up. Already the Labour yahoos have been by and so have the UK Independence Party, but then their local offices are next door. But today the Conservative Party put in their appearance with a nice color brochure showing three of their local candidates, two of whom I’ve met since being here.

And what do they promise? Well, they promise lots more government! The social welfare state is alive and well in the Conservative Party. The difference is that they promise to give more of it than the Labour Party does. And they promise voters that if put back into office they will increase government surveillance of the population! More state cameras filming more people going about their daily life.

Of course they take their cues from David Cameron who is doing his best to be a Blair-lite candidate if not a Blairite candidate. What principles of small government the Conservative Party briefly and weakly held seems abandoned. Blair has had some opposition from his own backbenchers but on a whole he pushed the fascist state ahead by leaps and bounds.

And what I suspect will shock my American readers is that Blair is far more of a fascist, in the literal sense, than Bush. Fascism and socialism are, in practice, quite similar. Both promote state domination. The fascist just allows the pretence of private ownership. But the state regulates and controls what private owners may do. That is economic fascism and that has always been popular within Labour circles. In fact much of what is called “progressive” and “socialist” around the world is nothing more than economic fascism.

But Blair is adding the police state element of fascism to the mix in ways that America has yet to do so explicitly. As odious as the Patriot Act may be the UK has gone further. Admittedly they don’t run concentration camps and engage in torture but they don’t have to. Blair’s Big Brother George does that for them. But England supports the camps, the torture, the suspension of habeas corpus and the rest of the Bushian imitation of National Socialism. Still Blair is marching much quicker toward the final solution.

Consider that he wishes to have a DNA database of every citizen. Already the British fascist state has such information on one out every 20 citizens. Totalitarian Tony wishes to impose, and will shortly, a national passport which citizens will need to carry around with them in case one of the state police stop them and demand it. There appear to be plans to use RFID chips in the ID so that scanners placed around the country can trace the whereabouts of anyone at any time. I presume this can easily be used to also find anyone who is not carrying a card thus making arrest easier.

Any and all moves to a new address are to be reported to the local gestapo office immediately. And if you die without permission then your grieving relatives better hop down and report it right away lest they be fined. Surely you don’t think they should put grieving and a funeral ahead of our collective obligations to the State!

A new program would place monitors in every vehicle in the country in order to allow the government to trace your every move on the road. This will be incorporated into the tens of thousands of closed circuit television cameras Blair has installed. Currently England is alleged to have one out every five close circuit cameras in the world installed to monitor the population. As dictitorial as Bush has been Blair has gone much further.

In a joint effort the Tony and George Comedy Hour have pushed through requirements that put all people traveling in Europe and the US under surveillance before they even leave home. Vast amounts of private details, including your credit card details, are supposed to be sent to British and US gestapo agents prior to your boarding a plane. All this information, making you a ripe target for identity theft, is then scrutinized by a secret computer program that will determine whether or not you are a security threat. Suspicious details include seat preferences, meal preferences, how you pay for your ticket, etc. And if it targets you wrongly -- and most, if not all, people targeted will be wrong ---well that’s just too bad. Stop whining. You act like you have rights.

In another move the British government has told tax agents to use satellites to monitor the homes of people in the UK. It is used to watch for “improvements” since if you make any effort to improve your life you are required to pay the state for permission to do so. Already they demand that all your computer visits and phone calls for the last two years be saved and open to government inspection.

And if it gets really bad? Will the British people rise up and defend their liberty? Not likely, the government confiscated all legally held, registered guns several years ago. There are still several million firearms in the country, more so now then when the ban went into effect, but the government says those are all in the hands of criminals, hence the reason for the increase in crimes committed with guns after all guns were banned.

And since a huge percentage of the population now pays their living expenses with state largess the tendency will be to avoid biting the hand that feeds them. As awful as things have become under King George I can assure you that England is in far worse shape. When they are finished buying vanilla extract will be the least of your worries.

In the film V for Vendetta the “Leader” of the British state, Adam Sutler, is seen speaking to a police officer whose job is to find the terrorist V. Sutler swivels in his chair and gestures toward a computer. He says to the officer:

“Mr. Almond, do you know what this is behind me?

“Uh... the Fate computer system, sir?”

“No. No sir. It’s more than that. This, this computer is a symbol, Mr. Almond. A symbol of the highest attainable goal of mankind. Do you know what that goal is, Mr. Almond?”

Sutler continues:

“Control, Mr. Almond! Control! The world around us is a changing, directionless, amoral morass and it is up to man and man alone to set things right! Without control, man is nothing, more than any other stinking, sweating, brute animal. Control, Mr. Almond. The control that we have painstakingly built up over the last ten years.”

The motto of Sutler and his crew of fascists is “England Prevails.” Indeed, it appears that England prevails. The good news is that when freedom dies you don’t have to file a report with the local government agents -- they knew before you did.

Photo: John Hurt doing his Tony Blair impersonation as Adam Sutler.

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