Category Archives: Government Regulation

Quote Of The Day

Will Wilkinson writing for The Economist:

To get at the value of WikiLeaks, I think it’s important to distinguish between the government—the temporary, elected authors of national policy—and the state—the permanent bureaucratic and military apparatus superficially but not fully controlled by the reigning government. The careerists scattered about the world in America’s intelligence agencies, military, and consular offices largely operate behind a veil of secrecy executing policy which is itself largely secret. American citizens mostly have no idea what they are doing, or whether what they are doing is working out well. The actually-existing structure and strategy of the American empire remains a near-total mystery to those who foot the bill and whose children fight its wars. And that is the way the elite of America’s unelected permanent state, perhaps the most powerful class of people on Earth, like it.

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Playing the World’s Smallest Violin for Rep. Charlie Rangel

Via CBSNEWS.com:

A House ethics committee subpanel today found Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel guilty of 11 of the 13 charges of ethics violations against him.

The panel, composed of four Democrats and four Republicans, emerged after private deliberation to announce their findings.

[…]

The subpanel will now submit its findings to the full ethics committee, which will schedule a public hearing to determine the appropriate sanctions to take against the longtime New York representative. Whatever action they decide on during the sanctions hearing will then go to the full House of Representatives. The committee could go so far as to recommend expelling Rangel, but that would be unlikely. Other possible sanctions include a House vote deploring Rangel’s conduct, a fine or a denial of privileges.

[…]

The hearing to consider the charges against Rangel began yesterday, but Rangel walked out of the proceedings in protest because he has been unable to acquire legal representation. Rangel’s legal team dropped the case this fall, reportedly after disagreements with Rangel over their defense strategy, and the lawmaker insists he neither has the money to find new counsel nor the time to set up a legal defense fund. By walking out of the hearing, Rangel chose to leave the evidence in the case against him unchallenged.

“I truly believe I am not being treated fairly,” Rangel said yesterday.

Poor Charlie. Here’s a tax and spend Leftist who lectures “the rich” to pay “their fair share” but when he gets busted for failing to properly file – well, he was just being “sloppy.”

I’m sure there’s a good number of people who were “sloppy” with their tax returns who couldn’t afford to pay for a good lawyer either. I’m also quite certain that most of these people have to worry about much worse consequences than to be censured by their colleagues (censure = “Shame on you, you’ve been a very naughty boy!”).

But as we all know, the rules are just different for the Washington elite because some people are more equal than others.

Innocence Project: Key DNA Sample Not a Match to Man Executed in Texas

The Innocence Project reported just today that the hair sample used to condemn Claude Jones to death was not a match.

“(Houston – November 12, 2010) The Innocence Project today released DNA test results proving that crucial hair evidence found at the scene of a murder, the only physical evidence linking the accused Claude Jones to the crime, did not belong to Jones. Although he always maintained his innocence, Jones was executed for murdering Allen Hilzendager on December 7, 2000. George Bush, who was awaiting a decision from the Florida Supreme Court on whether the presidential election recount would continue, denied Jones’ request for a 30 day stay of execution to do DNA test on the hair sample. The memo from the General Counsel’s office that recommended against the stay did not tell Bush that Jones was seeking a DNA test of the hair. Evidence that the hair “matched” Jones was critical to the prosecution’s case at trial and proved to be the key factor in a narrow 3-2 decision by the Texas Court of Appeals finding there was sufficient corroboration of the accomplice who testified against Jones to uphold the murder conviction.

[…]

“It is unbelievable that the lawyers in the General Counsel’s office failed to inform the governor that Jones was seeking DNA testing on evidence that was so pivotal to the case,” said former Texas Governor and Attorney General Mark White. “If the state is going to continue to use the death penalty, it must figure out a way to build safeguards in the system so that lapses like this don’t happen again.”

[…]

“The DNA results released today may not prove that Jones was innocent, but they do raise serious questions about whether the prosecution’s case was strong enough to present to a jury and the decision to seek the death penalty in the first place,” said Governor White. “No matter what your opinion of the death penalty, I hope we can all agree that it should only be used when the state is absolutely sure that the right person has been convicted.”

So why are we only now learning nearly 10 years after the fact that the State of Texas executed Claude Jones who was convicted based solely on a hair sample that did not tie him to the crime scene?

After the San Jacinto County District Attorney’s office refused to give the Innocence Project permission to do testing on the evidence, the Innocence Project, the Texas Observer, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network brought a successful lawsuit to do the testing that proved the hair did not belong to Jones.

Yet another example of the State of Texas stonewalling to keep the facts from ever seeing the light of day. These are the same government officials who are actively covering up another case where the state likely executed an innocent man in 2004 by the name of Cameron Todd Willingham (See the Frontline documentary of this case here).

Just two weeks ago, another man by the name of Anthony Graves became the 12th death row inmate exonerated in Texas (and 139th in the country) since 1973 after serving 18 years. Fortunately for Graves, his exoneration came before his date with the death chamber.

In Gov. Rick Perry’s mind, the exoneration of Graves was proof positive the criminal justice system in Texas is “working.”

“I think we have a justice system that is working, and he’s a good example of — you continue to find errors that were made and clear them up,” Perry said. “That’s the good news for us, is that we are a place that continues to allow that to occur. So I think our system works well; it goes through many layers of observation and appeal, et cetera. So I think our system is working.”

Now that this new revelation that Claude Jones was executed based on faulty evidence has come to light, I wonder if Gov. Perry still thinks the system is “working”? They were so cock sure that Graves, Jones, and Willingham* were guilty of capital murder and proven wrong but continue to use the same stonewalling tactics in Hank Skinner’s and other cases. Gov. Perry et. al would rather cover these cases up because they don’t want to risk losing their license to kill.

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If The Gov’t Doesn’t Pick Up The Trash, It’s Rat-Infested Black Plague For Us All

It seems that Radley Balko has gone playing whack-the-left again, this time smacking around John Cole of Balloon Juice for an overreacting tirade against people who are overzealously overreacting. It seems that Fountain Hills, AZ had competitive trash pickup, and the city council wanted to bid out trash pickup as a single-provider city service instead. The people of Fountain Hills reacted like a bunch of 1950’s anti-communists, calling it socialism and likening it to Obamacare. John Cole and his comment section went ape-shit, in the original post and follow-ups here and here.

Quite a few commenters suggested that if we don’t have municipal trash collection, we’ll look like third-world countries where people just bury, burn, or leave their trash out on their property to rot. Strangely, I hadn’t heard a single report of uncollected trash in Fountain Hills leading to this change. Even more fun, one commenter proved the old adage that everything that’s not compulsory shall be prohibited:

Actually, oddly I agree that cities shouldn’t have uniform trash pickup, if only because I think we should move towards having zero waste as individuals. (Reusable bags for food, no consumer goods, and composting.)

I couldn’t have drawn up a caricature this flat if I’d had a projector to trace it with on my wall.

So why am I wading into this morass? Because I’ve actually lived this. One of the features of competitive services is that if they don’t live up to my guidelines, they don’t get my business.

When I first moved to Georgia, I lived in unincorporated Cobb County, where there was no monopoly muni provider of trash pickup*. There were about 3 or 4 competing services. I ended up choosing one, and despite repeatedly saying they’d deliver a trash can, they neither did so nor did they haul away my trash. Now, I don’t think they’re a bad company. I think they just had a few repeated screwups. As we all know, occasionally government has screwups, like raiding the wrong address for drugs, or putting 8-year-olds on TSA no-fly lists. Unlike government poor service, though, I had, and took advantage of, the right to fire them. When my needs weren’t being met, I had an alternative.

The problems didn’t quite end there, of course. I then received a bill for “set-up fees” for the account, despite the fact that they’d never provided services. Rather than face collections, I paid the bill up front, and then sent an email to their customer service demanding it be refunded. They quickly and cordially acceded to my request, with no hassle whatsoever.

You can just ask the same Radley Balko how easy it is to get money he’s owed from the government, even when he’s done everything right and hounded them repeatedly for an explanation.

Municipal trash service isn’t really the hill to die on for a libertarian. It’s one of those services that straddles the line of public good vs. private market. Our HOA actually debated whether to consolidate to a single provider, as some of the families in the neighborhood were concerned about large trucks coming through on multiple days rather than a single day. It didn’t happen (at least during the 2 years I’d lived there), but I understand the argument and even as a libertarian I wouldn’t have moved out of the neighborhood over such a small issue. The best-run competitively-bid single-provider service can probably achieve economies of scale and efficiency that a competitive market (in this case) cannot — which of course isn’t to say that local governments always provide the best-run single-provider system. But it’s ridiculous for those opposing a competitive system to suggest that it doesn’t work, or that there aren’t actual benefits to customer service in a competitive system.
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The most revolting political video I’ve ever seen

Here are the first two tenets (of ten) of the organization dubbed 10:10:

  1. 10:10 is a voluntary emissions reduction campaign for any person, organisation or business to commit to cutting 10% of their emissions in a 12 month period starting in 2010.
  2. 10:10 is an inclusive campaign. Every person, business and organisation is welcome to join.

The video below (the original has already been deleted from their website) depicts what they mean by the word voluntary.  Those who can’t handle graphical depictions of school children being blown apart shouldn’t watch this, and parents should be advised that this is the sort of material from which some of you may wish to shield your children.

Here’s their current explanation as to why they deleted their own video:

Sorry.

Today we put up a mini-movie about 10:10 and climate change called ‘No Pressure’.

With climate change becoming increasingly threatening, and decreasingly talked about in the media, we wanted to find a way to bring this critical issue back into the headlines whilst making people laugh. We were therefore delighted when Britain’s leading comedy writer, Richard Curtis – writer of Blackadder, Four Weddings, Notting Hill and many others – agreed to write a short film for the 10:10 campaign. Many people found the resulting film extremely funny, but unfortunately some didn’t and we sincerely apologise to anybody we have offended.

As a result of these concerns we’ve taken it off our website. We won’t be making any attempt to censor or remove other versions currently in circulation on the internet.

We’d like to thank the 50+ film professionals and 40+ actors and extras and who gave their time and equipment to the film for free. We greatly value your contributions and the tremendous enthusiasm and professionalism you brought to the project.

At 10:10 we’re all about trying new and creative ways of getting people to take action on climate change. Unfortunately in this instance we missed the mark. Oh well, we live and learn.

Onwards and upwards,

Franny, Lizzie, Eugenie and the whole 10:10 team

They may have deleted the video, but the Internet has a very long memory, indeed. I’m sure political opponents of the environmental movement will be using this footage for years to come.

Quote of the Day: No, Cops Do Not Have Any Expectation of Privacy Edition

Anthony Graber, the man who was charged for violating Maryland’s wiretapping law for recording on his motorcycle helmet cam and posting a video to YouTube of an undercover cop who pulled a gun on him during a traffic stop will not spend the next 16 years of his life in prison. Hartford County Circuit Judge Emory A. Pitt Jr. dismissed the charges explained (correctly) that the police do not have an expectation of privacy while on duty and in public.

“Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation. ‘Sed quis custodiet ipsos cutodes’ (“Who watches the watchmen?”).” – Judge Emory A. Pitt Jr.

Just a gentle reminder to public servants that they work for us and are accountable to us, not the other way around.

Hat Tip: Hammer of Truth

Related: Cato Presents:Cops on Camera

Be Thankful I Don’t Take It All…

Here’s the outrage of the day, coming straight out of the UK:

The UK’s tax collection agency is putting forth a proposal that all employers send employee paychecks to the government, after which the government would deduct what it deems as the appropriate tax and pay the employees by bank transfer.

The proposal by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) stresses the need for employers to provide real-time information to the government so that it can monitor all payments and make a better assessment of whether the correct tax is being paid.

Currently employers withhold tax and pay the government, providing information at the end of the year, a system know as Pay as You Earn (PAYE). There is no option for those employees to refuse withholding and individually file a tax return at the end of the year.

If the real-time information plan works, it further proposes that employers hand over employee salaries to the government first.

Now, I’ve read the full proposal (1st link inside the blockquote), and I should, in the interest of fairness, clarify one discrepancy between what is stated above and the intended proposal: The HMRC would not be gathering salaries first and then disbursing what is “left over” after tax to the employee’s bank account. Rather, the HMRC would be involved as a third party — i.e. when the employer directs a salary payment, the HMRC advises the employer’s bank what the tax percentage for withholding is before the bank itself makes the payment. Some would say that it’s a distinction without a difference, but I would mention that the government is not, be default, a true middleman that intercepts the payment itself on its way to the employee.

That said, we’ve all seen what happens between legislation’s introduction and its passage, and I definitely am concerned that a) this little distinction could be removed quickly, or b) that this simply notches the gov’t one step further to being the actual middleman.

The article above goes on to express concern at the likelihood of mistakes in the system, but the real issue is greater government ability to step in and damage your ability to live if they see fit. Assuming that they don’t get direct control over the bank account itself, the government is likely to get compliance from a bank if, for example, they decide that someone’s “deduction” should be 100%. Right now the system is decentralized, so the employer has to calculate deductions based upon published rules and pay their employee accordingly. It doesn’t allow for the government to directly, invisibly, and immediately intrude on the arrangement. That would change, and certainly not for the better.

Even without the nightmare scenario, it allows for much less visible and more immediate changes to the tax code. Enabling centralized deductions ensures that if the legislature approves a tax rate or policy change, they don’t need to inform employers and set up a long lag time — citizens just start seeing a slight change to their take-home pay. This will make it easier to raise taxes.

Finally, I’ve often said that the nanny-state and regulatory-state policies of Britain are a leading indicator for the US (although oddly, reading deeper I think we may have beat them to withholding by a year — lucky us!). If this is being pushed there, it is no stretch to think that it’ll be very long before our own politicians want to follow their example.

Of course, it’s only appropriate to close with the song “Taxman”. While I’m partial to the Stevie Ray Vaughan version myself, with this being a story from the UK it’s gotta be the original: The Beatles.

Hat Tip: Billy Beck

Cato Presents: Cops on Camera

As cameras have become more available to individuals and government alike, viral videos of cops behaving badly have become quite pervasive on the internet. This short video by The Cato Institute provides a few recent examples of this relatively new phenomenon and explains why recording the actions of police and government officials for all the world to see is good for liberty. Its government that should be watched and its government that should fear the people, not the other way around.

Fidel Castro’s Incredible Revelations

Fidel holding a book

In an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, some incredible quotes came from the aging Cuban dictator:

(Reuters) – Fidel Castro said Cuba’s economic model no longer works, a U.S.-based journalist reported on Wednesday following interviews with the former president last week.

Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for the Atlantic Monthly magazine, wrote in a blog that he asked Castro, 84, if Cuba’s model — Soviet-style communism — was still worth exporting to other countries and he replied, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”

The comment appeared to reflect Castro’s agreement, which he also expressed in a column for Cuban media in April, with his younger brother President Raul Castro, who has initiated modest reforms to stimulate Cuba’s troubled economy.

Goldberg said Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Washington who accompanied him to Havana, believed Castro’s words reflected an acknowledgment that “the state has too big a role in the economic life of the country.”

I sent my esteemed colleague Larry Bernard, who contributes to Global Crisis Garden, a link to the story and he promptly said “Holy shit.” Indeed. If even Fidel Castro is putting a gravestone on the Marxist-Leninist style of government, that really is progress.

The interview also produced a line from Fidel Castro critical of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his endless anti-Semitism:

Does this release him from the “Axis of Evil”? Cuban Leader Fidel Castro attacks Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his anti-Semitism in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. Quotes include, “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews,” and “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”

Fidel Castro is going to have to act along with his words. He came into the international political world as a Vladimir Lenin. If he really wants to, he can leave a Mikhail Gorbachev. This would require stepping from power and leading a transition not toward continued Castro hereditary rule but towards a Jeffersonian Chile-style system of political freedom, market economies and a welfare state all checking and balancing one another. Chilean leaders only serve one term, despite their personal popularity.

It would also require either a break with or a push toward Hugo Chavez, Castro’s buddy, to change his destructive policies and populist rhetoric. Chavez has allied himself with nightmare regimes in the Middle East and exercised his own anti-Semitism. Nationalization of industries has led to rationing and shortages (while Chavez continues to appear delightfully plump in public appearances, counter to his trim days in the military). Meanwhile, Chavez has forced initiatives to give him unlimited power and has refused to groom a successor. To make matters worse, violence in Venezuela is worse than in Iraq, and without Iraq’s room for economic and political optimism.

If Castro really has had an awakening moment in which he has realized dictatorships simply don’t work, it’s going to be meaningless if the same failed formula continues to be tried elsewhere.

Quote Of The Day

Karl Smith on taxes vs. regulation:

On the other hand barrels of ink and the fates of political parties are determined over debates about the taxation of labor. Its a generally accepted principle of Public Economics that taxes are less damaging than regulation and in either case the broader and more uniform the restriction the less damage it does.

As such its not immediately obvious that whether we tax labor at a high marginal rate of 35% or 39.6% has larger supply side effect than whether a young entrepreneur faces a gauntlet of unnecessary classes and fees. In fact I am being too coy. I would be shocked if the taxes mattered more.

The rest is worth reading as well (discussion of health care freedom).

But the point is too often neglected. The combination of nanny-statism and corporatism leads to a government dominated by meddlesome bureaucrats, too often captured by the industries they regulate. Their actions are as harmful as those of the taxman, but far less visible.

Hat Tip: Ryan Avent @ Economist Free Exchange blog

Well, Well, Well. Looks Like Somebody Forgot There’s A Rule Against Alcoholic Beverages In Fraternities On Probation!

Rules, rules, rules. You try to do something nice. You try to organize a little competition for homebrewers where they can have their craft evaluated, judged, and [even for those who don’t win] provide valuable feedback on technique. It’s done in private events, county and state fairs, organized by major breweries and by national brewing-centric organizations. As a regular competitor, I know how valuable that feedback can be in improving my beer.

This year, however, they dropped the hammer in Oregon, over a stupid law that nobody even realized was on the books:

When the 2010 Oregon State Fair opens on Aug. 27, there won’t be an amateur beer-brewers competition for the first time in 22 years.

An overlooked, 80-year-old statute that says Oregon home-brewed beer can’t leave the home has forced fair organizers to cancel the competition, which had 335 entrants last year, says Oregon Liquor Control Commission spokeswoman Christie Scott.

Brewers were reminded of the statute after the Oregon Department of Justice clarified the law for a pub seeking to serve home brew at an event, Scott says. “As long as this is the law, we have to enforce it,” she says, adding that the commission hopes to see the statute changed in time for the 2011 fair.

Nationally, federal regulations allow homebrewing as long as the beer is not sold and is subject to a 200-gallon household limit per year. (As an aside, one of my personal goals is to exceed that limit at least once.) The federal regulations say nothing about transportation of the beer, so this is purely an Oregon thing. Which is especially sad, since Oregon is one of the leading states driving the craft beer movement.

People romanticize government as our protectors, but forget that their meddling ways (and incompetence about what laws even exist) can be arbitrarily used to shut down a good time, despite the fact that nobody at the Oregon State Fair Homebrew Competition wanted or needed protection.

What’s next, shutting down a little girl’s lemonade stand because she doesn’t have a business license? Too late

Hat Tip: Reason

I’m Not A Fan Of “Joe Boxer”, But…

In Canada, there’s terror afoot. Young girls, late at night, are just BURSTING into flames! It seems they’ve been buying unapproved underpants, and the bodies are piling up.

Only, they’re not. Nobody to date has burst into flame. And they were approved, but they just got reclassified, and apparently the difference between calling them underwear and sleepwear is enough to pull them off the shelves:

Sears Canada is recalling thousands of young girls’ Joe Boxer underwear sets sold over the past four years because they’re not safe to be worn to bed as pyjamas.

The clothing meets Health Canada’s flammability tests for underwear, but not if worn as sleepwear. Sears Canada has removed the two-piece camisole and underpants sets from their stores. The cotton product is made in India.

Although no incidents have been reported, the company issued a news release to inform customers the clothing does not meet flammability test standards for pyjamas.

When people suggest that businesses are scared to invest in an environment where the rules constantly change, this is what they’re talking about. Getting moved from bin A to bin B can completely destroy your business.

Here’s Lenore Skenazy from Free Range Kids with her take on it:

Somehow, they have been reclassified as “sleepwear,” and sleepwear must hold to a higher non-flammability standard than undies. So now they are not fire retardant enough.

I’ll tell you what IS retardant enough…

I’m not so sure. I don’t think we have enough hard data on the fire retardant properties of the average politician or bureaucrat (the economic retardant properties are well understood).

I suggest we find a representative sample (not sure why, but the number 535 seems an appropriate sample size), light them on fire, and record the results.

It’ll be a win for freedom, and for science!

Quote of the Day: Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider on Al and Tipper Gore’s Marriage Woes

“Let’s cut to twenty-five years later, I’m still married – none of my kids have been busted for drug possession. Can Al and Tipper Gore say the same thing? I don’t think so – oh, snap!” — Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider

We’re not gonna take it,
No, we ain’t gonna take it
We’re not gonna take it
ANYMORE!!!!!!!

Oh Noz! Unintended Consequences!

A few months ago, when Pelosi crowed about the immediate effects of Obamacare, I pointed out a long list of them and my responses. My thoughts:

6. NO DISCRIMINATON AGAINST CHILDREN WITH PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS—Prohibits health plans from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. Effective 6 months after enactment. (Beginning in 2014, this prohibition would apply to all persons.)

Again, an increase to private health insurance premiums. But hey, who’ll complain? After all, it’s for the children.

Today, it looks like one is becoming even worse than I’d thought:

In Florida, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Aetna, and Golden Rule — a subsidiary of UnitedHealthcare — notified the insurance commissioner that they will stop issuing individual policies for children, said Jack McDermott, a spokesman for McCarty.

The major types of coverage for children — employer plans and government programs — are not be affected by the disruption. But a subset of policies — those that cover children as individuals — may run into problems. Even so, insurers are not canceling children’s coverage already issued, but refusing to write new policies.

The administration reacted sharply to the pullback. “We’re disappointed that a small number of insurance companies are taking this unwarranted and unnecessary step,” said Jessica Santillo, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services department.

Starting later this year, the health care overhaul law requires insurers to accept children regardless of medical problems — a major early benefit of the complex legislation. Insurers are worried that parents will wait until kids get sick to sign them up, saddling the companies with unpredictable costs.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida issues about 9,000 to 10,000 new policies a year that only cover children. Vice president Randy Kammer said the company’s experts calculated that guaranteeing coverage for children could raise premiums for other individual policy holders by as much as 20 percent.

“We believe that the majority of people who would buy this policy were going to use it immediately, probably for high cost claims,” said Kammer. “Guaranteed issue means you could technically buy it on the way to the hospital.”

Of course, I’m being generous here in my suggestion than muscling private insurers out of providing coverage is truly an “unintended” consequence.

H/T: Jason Pye @ UL

Tweet Of The Day

@ezraklein

Downside of #topsecretamerica: It’s watching everything you do. Upside: It doesn’t know what it’s seeing.

I believe that’s intended to be reassuring. What I’m not sure Ezra understands is that this is probably WORSE, because it’s less likely to be indiscriminately applied. Rather, it’s far more likely to be abused for political or personal ends.

Think of it this way. Let’s say you’re an average joe who gets a bit creative on your income tax return. You casually invent a few things, casually omit a few things, and end up maybe increasing your refund by $1K. All this data probably won’t mean that you’ll get caught for your transgression. You can go about your merry way without worry, because the government doesn’t have the ability to filter out and recognize based upon all the data that reality isn’t congruous with what’s on the form.

But let’s say that there’s a reason for government to target you. Let’s say, for example, that you’re a political blogger who is a thorn in the side of one of your state legislators. That legislator has a few connections. They work to mine the data looking for something to damage your credibility. All of a sudden they find that your weekly golfing buddy just happens to have 2nd-level connections to guys who are tied to fundraising for an Islamic “charity” group that’s on the state department list of terrorist groups. And you’ve become acquainted with them through email, facebook, etc. All of a sudden it doesn’t matter that you barely know these guys, it doesn’t matter that those guys think they’re contributing to a charity helping people. All of a sudden you get blindsided by rumors that you’re tied to terrorist groups, and have to dig out of that with your extended family, your neighbors, your boss, etc.

I’m not saying this is an exceptionally likely scenario. But all this data ensures that if someone in power has a reason to target you, they can find something that you’ve done wrong, or manufacture enough circumstantial evidence to destroy your reputation. The mountains of data probably won’t help them find you — government isn’t competent enough for that. But if they know you and hate you, the mountains of data will give them all the ammunition they need to destroy you.

Venezuela: Ruled By A Complete Madman

If it wasn’t already evident that Hugo Chavez is a complete madman, the exhuming of the long dead revolutionary Simon Bolivar should prove that to you:

(Reuters) – Venezuela exhumed the remains of 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar on Friday and will test them to see if he was poisoned by enemies in Colombia.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez rejects the traditional account that Bolivar, a brilliant Venezuelan military tactician who freed much of South America from centuries of Spanish rule, died of tuberculosis in Colombia in 1830.

He insists Bolivar was murdered by a Colombian rival, and Venezuela’s newly inaugurated state forensics laboratory is taking as its first case the death of the hero some call Latin America’s George Washington.

The insanity continues considerably with Chavez’s ramblings as he seems to orgasm and faun over the skeleton of Bolivar:

“What amazing moments we have lived tonight! We have seen the remains of the Great Bolivar,” Chavez wrote on his Twitter account, @chavezcandanga, after the casket was opened before dawn.

“My God, my God … my Christ, our Christ … I confess we have cried, we have sworn. I tell them: this glorious skeleton must be Bolivar because you can feel his presence. My God.”

This is sick stuff. Meanwhile, the Hard Left in the United States has been acting in accordance with this sick puppy as he utilizes populist sentiment to expand power and enrich himself. Food is being rationed for the Venezuelan people while Chavez, who had a very trim figure in his revolutionary days, is well fed and plump.

This Is Your Government

As our readers can no doubt see, things have moved to a snail’s pace here. I’m not sure I expect that to change soon [at least for me].

However, I came across this post at TJIC, referencing a post at Coyote Blog, that is an absolute must read.

This is a government that is arbitrary, capricious, and exists not to protect the rights of the governed, but to aggregate power unto itself.

When you ask me why I don’t trust government to do anything, that post is a pretty good example of my answer.

Yes, the Second Amendment really means what it says… and that means you too Chicago

This past Monday, Samuel Alito, writing for the majority (with separate concurring opinions from Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia) in the case McDonald vs. City of Chicago and Village of Morton Grove; handed down what in 30 years will I believe, be held as one of (or perhaps half of a pair of, or the second in a series of) the most significant rulings in the courts history, not just for the right to keep and bear arms, but for the rights of all people in this nation.

I had meant to get this post out yesterday, but I had to take the time to read the entire opinion… all 214 pages of it… and think about it for a bit.

This judgment is notable, both for what it does, and for what it does not do; and I want to go into that in some depth… and I want to go into some of the background and issues surrounding the decision that aren’t necessarily about the right to keep and bear arms

However, that is going to get long…. and if you aren’t interested in constitutional law and the nature and exercise of the rights and powers of the states, it’s going to be boring. There’s only so much you can do to make enumeration and separation of powers issues over more than two hundred years, all that interesting.


Note: Also, for those of you who DO closely follow con law, this is going to be a gross simplification in some ways. I don’t have time to write a book here, and a book is what it would take to cover this comprehensively (actually several… there are a few out there already, and Heller and its progeny are sure to generate more).

At any rate, I’m going to break it out into another posts, and I’ll update this post with a link when I finish the other one.

… I should warn you, I’m already 5,000 words in, and I’m probably less than half done…

McDonald vs. Chicago is the first major gun rights case brought before the supreme court under the clarified Heller doctrine, to wit:

The right to keep and bear arms for all lawful purposes is an individual right, possessed by all citizens and lawful residents of this country (provided this right has not been statutorily stripped from them, with due process of law); and the core of that right, is the fundamental right to defense of self, and others.

Actually, McDonald is a bit more than just “first”… In fact, the case was prepared in advance, and filed immediately on the handing down of the Heller ruling; by the lead counsel on the Heller case, Alan Gura.

The issue at hand in Heller was to affirm and clarify the basic right; something which those on the left in general, and in the gun control lobby in particular, had been trying to deny for something like the last 40 years

Note: The modern gun control movement as currently constituted really began in the late 60s; roughly coinciding with accelerating decay of civil order and rise in civil unrest, the rise of the drug and counterculture, and dramatically rising crime rates.

More than anything else, it was the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King that kick-started the gun control movement as it exists today.

The gun control movement in the U.S. as a whole has its roots in racial discrimination against immigrants in the pre-civil war northern cites, and blacks in the post civil war south.

Up until the late 1950s, the left as a whole actually advocated gun ownership, as a bulwark against the state… a position generally ascribed these days to the “far right”; but as the left post 1932 increasingly BECAME the state, their position on civilian non-police gun ownership changed.

The issue at hand in McDonald is substantially identical to Heller, with a crucial difference we’ll discuss in a moment; that of incorporation of the second amendment against state and local governments, as other rights enumerated in the bill of rights have been.

In Heller, the substance and nature of the right were affirmed. However, though the assertion of the right is very clear; it’s application is potentially limited.

Because the Heller case pertained to a federal enclave (Washington D.C. is not a part of any state. It is a federal enclave. Precedent in DC cases applies federally, but not necessarily to issues in the several states), the ruling only explicitly applied to the federal government.

In principle the right could be asserted against the states, or it could not be… depending on judicial interpretation. Either way a judge decided, it would almost be certain to be appealed… as indeed it was (in at least four cases so far, all of which were delayed pending the McDonald ruling).

Also, Heller left various questions open to interpretation, such as the standard of review for laws pertaining to the right to keep and bear arms, and whether interest balancing tests could be made.. or for that matter just what types of laws would be acceptable short of outright bans on firearms in the home (which were explicitly forbidden).

In Mondays decision on McDonald, it was affirmed (quite strongly), that the rights protected by the second amendment are equal in stature to the rights protected by the first amendment, and all the others.

In both the majority opinion, and the concurrences, the court made it explicit that the protections afforded by the second amendment applied against the state. Further, they made it clear that a strict standard of review was to be applied to any law regarding the right to keep and bear arms (though they do not by any means disallow all regulation. In both Heller and McDonald, it is acknowledged that some regulation of any right can be acceptable, but must be strictly scrutinized).

There is still one set of questions to be resolved, what exact restrictions against keeping and bearing arms will be acceptable under this standard of review. Just as there are many limitations against speech permitted by current jurisprudence, including many which probably should not be allowed under the constitution (such as most of what is called “campaign finance reform”); there will likely still be substantial restrictions allowed by the court. In any case, it will be years… likely decades… before the whole issue is settled law, and in the mean time, there will be a lot of contradiction and chaos.

The fight is certainly not over… in fact it’s really just getting started.

This is where we get into the theoretical discussion about the constitution, so I think I’m going to end here and pick it up in the next, much longer, post.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Why I Don’t Listen To Jenny McCarthy — Or the CDC

The journalist responsible for the original uproar about the MMR vaccine and autism has been shown to have produced very shoddy research, and widely discredited. He was even recently banned from the practice of medicine in the UK. This has, of course, not quieted the debate. In fact, it’s gotten even worse, with his vaccine supporters claiming the science is settled, and vaccine opponents acting as if this is all a big cover-up.

The problem with this debate, for most people, is that they don’t have the training to actually view the real research and make an informed decision. They’re trying to decide whether to listen to their usual source of information, an emotionally-charged celebrity (Jenny McCarthy) or to trust the authorities, who just naturally have that stink of “they must be hiding something” about them. Add a dash of humanity’s propensity to swallow conspiracy theories, and nobody knows what to believe.

As a parent, I decided it was my job to educate myself and make the decision for my kids, regardless of what the CDC said. Nothing is riskless. It is my job to weigh the risk of vaccinating against the risk of not vaccinating, both for specific vaccines, for the age of administration of those vaccines, even to the level of possibly discriminating against brands of vaccine based upon ingredient levels (you may laugh, but I have asked my pediatrician which brand they use).

Some anti-vaccine folks in my extended family supplied me with the crackpot books they’ve read (i.e. books where the author was denouncing the entire germ theory of disease as bogus), and it was clear reading these that the authors had an axe to grind. A book written from an ideological perspective is not necessarily a disqualification, but books where the ideology trumps the science are out of the question.

I ended up on a book published by my kid’s pediatrician. I chose it because it seemed to honestly and neutrally discuss the relative diseases guarded against, the ingredients of the vaccines in question, and the safety record of the vaccine. The author supports vaccination, but it was clear that he did his level best to offer the evidence without bias, separate from his own recommendations pro/con on each vaccine.

I ended up choosing the vaccine schedule that I put my kids through based on that information — i.e. a cost/benefit analysis of the likelihood my child might contract the disease in question, the severity of the disease if he did catch it, and the relative risks of the vaccine in relation to the above.

As an example, I chose that my children get the polio vaccine. While it’s a rare disease, it’s a particularly nasty disease, and the vaccine is one of the safest available. I also chose to get vaccines such as HiB and Rotavirus, because they’re relatively harmful diseases, particularly in infancy, and also diseases that my kids aren’t that unlikely to contract.

On the other hand, I chose against MMR. While measles, mumps, and rubella are common, they’re also typically mild diseases. The vaccine has a higher prevalence of adverse reactions than most, and there is a worry that some of the vaccines for “mild” diseases can lead to complications later in life, with a more virulent and dangerous form of a disease affecting the individual in adulthood. Thus I didn’t believe taking risks to protect my kids from diseases that seemed relatively innocuous in most kids made a lot of sense, especially since the long-term effect is unknown. I had the same rationale for the chickenpox vaccine.

I also opted for a more spread-out vaccine regimen (i.e. not necessarily later in life, but more visits and less shots per visit), because I think the likelihood of an adverse reaction may be increased when you subject a body to the stress of several vaccines at once.

This, of course, is done with the unique attributes of my family taken into account. It’s a low-risk household, with the kids breast-fed until 12 months, no day care, and not a huge amount of interaction with hordes of other youth. Further, they’re well-nourished and healthy kids, so I feel they’d be far better than “average” at weathering the storm of a disease like measles or chickenpox. This, of course, also makes them less likely to have an severe adverse reaction to a vaccine, so it affects the risk/benefit of vaccinating just as much as not vaccinating.

I know that this decision is my responsibility as a parent. I know that I am weighing some risks against others, and that there’s a chance that things could go wrong. It is because of that responsibility that I read 3 books cover-to-cover on the subject, discarding two of them as trash and settling on one that I thought trustworthy before making my decisions. At the end of the day, I feel like I made the best decision I could, given the evidence I had, and I and my family are going to be the ones who have to live with the consequences, right or wrong. That’s a heady weight, and one that most parents probably don’t want to bear. But that’s the responsibility that comes with raising a child.

The problem will come when the kids need to go to school. The schools typically demand that you’re current with all or most of the vaccines on the CDC schedule. Most public schools will allow you to let your unvaccinated child attend if you claim a philosophical objection to vaccinations. It’s a major hassle, but they do allow it. The problem for me is that I don’t have a philosophical objection to vaccination (especially as an atheist — no religious reasons for me). One of the pieces of evidence against a philosophical objection is to give your child any vaccines — i.e. my piecemeal approach is not philosophical.

I do have a philosophical objection to bureaucratic one-size fits all government mandates, though, and thus I don’t accept that the government should be the one demanding that I follow their cost-benefit analysis for “most” kids when it doesn’t fit my family’s particular situation. My philosophical objection is being forced to take risks with my children that the CDC wants me to take, when I’ve evaluated the research myself and I disagree. That objection, though, is less well accepted in California than Scientology.
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Prosecutors Ask If Congress Duped CBO To Obtain Favorable Score

Okay, that’s not true. But it’s no different than this:

Prosecutors Ask if 8 Banks Duped Rating Agencies

Wall Street played a crucial role in the mortgage market’s path to collapse. Investment banks bundled mortgage loans into securities and then often rebundled those securities one or two more times. Those securities were given high ratings and sold to investors, who have since lost billions of dollars on them.

At Goldman, there was even a phrase for the way bankers put together mortgage securities. The practice was known as “ratings arbitrage,” according to former workers. The idea was to find ways to put the very worst bonds into a deal for a given rating. The cheaper the bonds, the greater the profit to the bank.

The rating agencies may have facilitated the banks’ actions by publishing their rating models on their corporate Web sites. The agencies argued that being open about their models offered transparency to investors.

But several former agency workers said the practice put too much power in the bankers’ hands. “The models were posted for bankers who develop C.D.O.’s to be able to reverse engineer C.D.O.’s to a certain rating,” one former rating agency employee said in an interview, referring to collateralized debt obligations.

I just finished reading Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, and it’s pretty clear that the banks knew enough about the rating agencies’ models to pretty successfully turn shit into shinola. In fact, the agencies made enough of their ratings models public to make it absolutely certain that the banks would game the system. Not *dupe* the rating agencies, mind you, because the ratings agencies were willing partners.

But I thought about it a little bit more, and I was struck by another thought.

The Democratic house leadership wanted to cost projection of the healthcare bill to come in within a certain number. So what did they do? They duped gamed the CBO rating system to ensure that the bill they wrote would have the price tag they wanted it to have. The CBO is a respected and non-partisan office, but they’re asked only to score what legislators give them, NOT what they think the legislators will do in other bills immediately or a few years down the line.

Essentially both the Wall Street banks and Congressional leadership did the same thing: they were teaching to the test. They knew specifically what was needed in order to generate a favorable outcome from the “test”, and they made sure they did exactly what they wanted, but in such a way that got the right score.

So who’s going to prosecute the Democratic leadership when this healthcare bill inevitably costs the American people more than they advertised?

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