Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Selective Reporting

When a large number of cities have record temperatures, the media sycophants are all over the issue, warning us that global warming is going to flood our coasts, and kill us. But when 1,112 record cold temperatures are reported, all we get is ... nothing.

If Only We Were A Dictatorship....

Ron Fournier at the National Journal is all wistful that our government isn't more efficient at making decisions. He writes:
In Obama's case, the modern GOP is an obstructionist, rudderless party often held hostage by extremists. So … get over it. His response to The New York Times is another illustration that Obama and his liberal allies have a limited—and limiting—definition of presidential leadership.

... First, as Klein suggests, the U.S. political system faces enormous structural problems that make leadership challenging for any president. Chief among them is sophisticated redistricting that has helped create a polarized Congress packed with lawmakers with no incentive to compromise. Second, government austerity reduces the president's ability to bargain with Congress. Third, the democratization of politics—and of big money in particular—has weakened the party structures. That has weakened a president's powers that stem from his role as the titular party chief. Finally, the modern GOP is less willing than Democrats to compromise. There is something to Obama's complaint that virtually any policy he supports will be met by resistance.
Let me suggest something. Our Constitution is designed to prevent government action where there is no consensus. That is a feature, not a bug. (It is also why liberals pushing unpopular ideas love to run to the courts because consensus is not required in that forum). It is not the government's job to fix "problems" over the objection of the People. If there is no consensus, the problem isn't with Congress, but with the proposed legislation.

The Status of Centralized Planning

A couple disturbing articles on the status of Obama's plan to impose socialism on the United States. First, this article from Stanley Kurtz, at the National Review, suggests that rather than floundering without a policy, Obama in fact is implementing a policy that would force Americans from suburbs into more dense urban spaces. Kurtz writes:

The most obvious new element of the president’s regionalist policy initiative is the July 19 publication of a Department of Housing and Urban Development regulation broadening the obligation of recipients of federal aid to “affirmatively further fair housing.” The apparent purpose of this rule change is to force suburban neighborhoods with no record of housing discrimination to build more public housing targeted to ethnic and racial minorities. Several administration critics noticed the change and challenged it, while the mainstream press has simply declined to cover the story.

Yet even critics have missed the real thrust of HUD’s revolutionary rule change. That’s understandable, since the Obama administration is at pains to downplay the regionalist philosophy behind its new directive. The truth is, HUD’s new rule is about a great deal more than forcing racial and ethnic diversity on the suburbs. (Regionalism, by the way, is actually highly controversial among minority groups. There are many ways in which both middle-class minorities in suburbs, and less well-off minorities in cities, can be hurt by regionalist policies–another reason those plans are seldom discussed.)

The new HUD rule is really about changing the way Americans live. It is part of a broader suite of initiatives designed to block suburban development, press Americans into hyper-dense cities, and force us out of our cars. Government-mandated ethnic and racial diversification plays a role in this scheme, yet the broader goal is forced “economic integration.” The ultimate vision is to make all neighborhoods more or less alike, turning traditional cities into ultra-dense Manhattans, while making suburbs look more like cities do now. In this centrally-planned utopia, steadily increasing numbers will live cheek-by-jowl in “stack and pack” high-rises close to public transportation, while automobiles fall into relative disuse. To understand how HUD’s new rule will help enact this vision, we need to turn to a less-well-known example of the Obama administration’s regionalist interventionism.
Read the whole thing.

Second is this article from the Washington Times describing the Administration's plans to use propaganda--termed "nudging" by the Administration--to influence Americans into what government bureaucrats believe to be better choices.

The White House has kicked off several federal projects aimed at influencing how Americans react to certain policy reforms, going so far as to solicit behavior experts to join a British-style “Behavioral Insights Team” to help nudge voters into accepting key political programs.

“Behavioral sciences can be used to help design public policies that work better, cost less and help people to achieve their goals,” a document on the government program states, Fox News reported.

The document, emailed by White House senior adviser Maya Shankar and obtained by Fox News, also seeks applicants to join the federal government’s behavior modification team.
England already has one such group; it’s called the “Behavioral Insights Team,” and has recently recommended to the government how best to compel Brits to pay their taxes, Fox News reported.

The main thrust of the White House-backed group: To “experiment” with ways to control, sway and tweak Americans’ behaviors so they do everything from saving more money for retirement to curbing energy uses and trimming energy costs, Fox News reported.
The new program has already been used in conjunction with Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture policies, Fox News said. And it hails from ideas discussed years ago, most notably on the heels of publication of a 2008 book written by President Obama’s former regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, who referred to such government actions as “nudges.”

Advocates say nudging helps move the political process along, absent regulation. But detractors say nudging relies on inaccurate data to drive Americans into compliance.
 Goebbels would be pleased.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why Real Tax Reform is Impossible

Business Week reports that "Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who head the Senate Finance Committee and are working on a complete rewrite of the U.S. tax code, have assured their colleagues that any of their requests to preserve a loophole will be kept secret by the National Archives for 50 years."
So here’s what we know about Baucus and Hatch’s “blank slate” process, which wipes the tax code clean, forcing senators to justify every loophole they ask to have written back in. We know that some of the loopholes just aren’t defensible, so toxic to voters that not only can we not know them, we may not ever know them. I will probably not live to 2064; the genes aren’t as good on my father’s side. I would, however, like to be able to decide how to vote in 2014. Senators have to please both constituents and donors. I get it. Money is speech. But any senator with a tax plea so secret it has to be physically locked away is definitely, absolutely not requesting it for the voters.
What a disgusting usurpation and corruption of our government--that who requests special favors in the tax code will be treated with greater secrecy than the plans to build a nuclear weapon. I've long felt Hatch is a worthless RINO cow-tow, but this confirms it.

Andrew Klavan Suggests A New Motto for the Democratic Party...

..."Women — We Treat You Like Dirt, But At Least You Can Kill Your Unborn Children!

This may actually explain why the Democrats ignore the abuse of women under sharia.

Saudi Prince States That Fracking Is Threat To Kingdom

From Sky News (h/t Drudge):

A Saudi prince has warned that his oil-reliant nation is under threat because of fracking technology being developed elsewhere around the world.

Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said the Gulf Arab kingdom needed to reduce its reliance on crude oil and diversify its revenues.

His warning comes as rising shale energy supplies in the United States cut global demand for Saudi oil.

In an open letter to his country's oil minister Ali al Naimi and other government heads, published on Sunday via his Twitter account, Prince Alwaleed said demand for oil from Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) member states was "in continuous decline".
 Of course, it is not just developments in the United States, but from nations as diverse as Israel and Australia.

There is more than just industrial decline at issue here. Falling oil prices are an existential threat to many oil producing countries because they rely on oil revenues to sustain their budgets--and welfare and subsidies to their citizens. Low oil prices could lead to food riots that could topple regimes.

Of course, it is easier to have environmental groups beat their drums, and to "influence" key government officials, than to diversify an economy in a slave culture. Accordingly, we should see more desperate actions both from the Administration, certain members of Congress, and from environmentalists to stop further development in the United States and other first world countries.

Glenn Greenwald Claims Even Low Level NSA Analysts...

“The NSA has trillions of telephone calls and emails in their databases that they’ve collected over the last several years,” Greenwald told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “And what these programs are, are very simple screens, like the ones that supermarket clerks or shipping and receiving clerks use, where all an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address, and it does two things. It searches that database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered, and it also alerts them to any further activity that people connected to that email address or that IP address do in the future.”

Greenwald explained that while there are “legal constraints” on surveillance that require approval by the FISA court, these programs still allow analysts to search through data with little court approval or supervision.

“There are legal constraints for how you can spy on Americans,” Greenwald said. “You can’t target them without going to the FISA court. But these systems allow analysts to listen to whatever emails they want, whatever telephone calls, browsing histories, Microsoft Word documents.”

“And it’s all done with no need to go to a court, with no need to even get supervisor approval on the part of the analyst,” he added.
Government officials deny these allegations, saying that the NSA's capabilities are more limited, and no searches can be made without a court order. Except, the NSA Director had previously lied about the scope of the NSA surveillance, so why should we believe him now. And, the FISA court's warrant is so broad, that saying a court order is needed doesn't mean anything at all.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

This Should Be Interesting....

The port will be the property of the government of Pakistan whereas China will be the operator on a profit-sharing basis.

Earlier, Pakistan had handed over control of Gwadar Port to Singapore Port Authority which later sold its rights to a Chinese company.

According to Michael, China will make investments to make the port functional and turn Pakistan into a regional trade hub. China will invest in construction of berths to handle cargo ships.

“We have to finalise terms and conditions and I along with my team will head to Beijing to negotiate the agreement,” he said, adding the port operator would be the shareholder in the port.

He also welcomed any investment from neighbouring countries including Iran and Russia in Gwadar Port. Road infrastructure for the port will also be constructed and it will be linked with China through a railway link.
However, today's Times of India reports that militants have attacked the Gwadar port with heavy weapons, killing 8 or 10 security personnel. Will the Chinese be willing to spend the blood and money necessary to expand their influence in the region?

Why Police Shouldn't Have Guns: Bad Lighting Excuse

The Daily Mail reports:

Police shot and killed a 72-year-old man while searching the wrong home.

Fort Worth, TX., police have blamed poor lighting after responding May 28 to a burglary alarm, searching the wrong home and shooting dead beloved husband Jerry Waller, according to an affidavit. The city of Fort Worth has had more than one incident involving misidentified homes this year, the second resulted in the wrong house being bulldozed.

Mr. Waller’s home is across the street from the home the police should have been responding to, according to reports.

"Water Trapping" May Make Exoplanets Habitable

Earth-like planets may be able to support life in a small area of their surface even if most of their water is permanently frozen, a new study has found.

Planets that orbit red dwarf stars, known as exoplanets, can become 'tidally locked' so that their water is frozen on their permanently cold night-time sides but they could still sustain life, astronomer Kristen Menou at Columbia University has explained.

... As a result, the planets have a permanent day side and permanent night side.

This means that the water is trapped unable to reach the temperate side of the planet, creating huge glaciers on the cold, dark side.

If the water moved around to the hot, daytime side of the planets, however, the water would simply evaporate.
On the night-side there would still be ice covering the surface, creating an unusual 'eyeball earth' effect.
This leaves only a thin band of water around the planet where the temperature was just right for it to remain liquid, and this is where organisms could grow.

This band is hoped to exist on planets very close to red dwarfs, which are not as hot as our sun.
The water-trapping principle is a major clue in trying to access the potential habitability of red dwarf orbiting planets.

Desmond Tutu Picks Hell Over Heaven

The Daily Caller reports that "South Africa’s iconic retired archbishop, Desmond Tutu, said on Friday that if he had his pick, he’d go to hell before heading to a heaven that condemned homosexuality as sin." Tutu probably isn't familiar with the Bible, or he might have read Leviticus 18:22.

(H/t Weasel Zippers)

"I Should Have Asked for a Lawyer"

Shakespeare suggests that in order to form a tyranny, one of the first steps is to kill all the lawyers. The Wall Street Journal reports on the attempt to force a conviction of sexual assault against a West Point cadet. He was acquitted of the sexual assault charge, but convicted of perjury because he went back and corrected a sworn statement he had made early in the investigation.

After the court-martial panel read its verdict, Mr. Cromartie took the stand in the proceeding's sentencing phase to show remorse for the misstatement: "I should have reviewed my statement thoroughly. I just skimmed it and it was my fault," he testified. "I should have asked for a lawyer."

The Gay Marriage Slippery Slope

Now that homosexuals walk away with two victories from the Supreme Court, Kent Greenfield, writing at the American Prospect, acknowledges that once you accept the arguments in favor of gay marriage, you cannot honestly argue against allowing polygamy or, even, incestual marriages. 

The left is in this bind in part because our arguments for expanding the marriage right to same-sex couples have been so compelling. Marriage, we’ve said, is about defining one’s own family and consecrating a union based on love. We’ve voiced these arguments in constitutional terms, using claims arising from the doctrines of “fundamental rights” and equal protection. Fundamental-rights analysis says that marriage is for many a crucial element of human flourishing, or as the Court said almost fifty years ago “essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness.” Because it’s so important, government can restrict marriage only by showing a truly compelling justification. The equal protection argument is simply that the marriage right should not be taken away from groups unless the government has good reasons to exclude those groups. 

When it comes to marriage, the fundamental rights claims and the equal protection arguments often intertwine. For example, Justice Kennedy’s opinion last month striking down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act said that DOMA’s injection of “inequality into the United States Code” violated the “liberty” protected by the Constitution. The “inequality” part is equal protection language; the “liberty” wording is fundamental rights stuff. The analytical box is not all that important. What it boils down to is that when the government wants to exclude groups from something important like marriage, it has to show good reasons for the exclusion. And prejudice—simply thinking something is “icky”—doesn’t count as a reason.

The arguments supporters of same-sex marriage have made in court do not sufficiently distinguish marriage for lesbians and gay men from other possible claimants to the marriage right. If marriage is about the ability to define one’s own family, what’s the argument against allowing brothers and sisters (or first cousins) to wed? If liberty protects, as Kennedy wrote ten years ago in Lawrence v. Texas, the case striking down Texas’s anti-sodomy law, the “right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life,” why can’t people in polyamorous relationships claim that right as well? If it’s wrong to exclude groups because of prejudice, are we sure the uneasiness most of us feel about those who love more than one, or love one of their own, shouldn't count as prejudice?

In private conversations with leaders in the marriage movement, I often hear two responses. The first is that there is no political energy behind a fight for incestuous or polygamous marriages. The second is that they would be fine if those restrictions fell as well but, in effect, “don’t quote me on that.” The first of these responses, of course, is a political response but not a legal one. The second is to concede the point, with hopes that they won't have to come out of the closet on the concession until more same-sex victories are won in political and legal arenas.
 The article goes on to shoot down some of the common arguments against polygamy and incestual marriage between adults, and suggests that liberals need to either come up with some valid Constitutional arguments or admit that there is a slippery slope.

The Expanding Security State, or, Orwell Was An Optimist

The attempt by the House to reign in the NSA failed, by a fairly close vote. One of those responsible for killing the legislation was Nancy Pelosi.

The obituary of Rep. Justin Amash's amendment to claw back the sweeping powers of the National Security Agency has largely been written as a victory for the White House and NSA chief Keith Alexander, who lobbied the Hill aggressively in the days and hours ahead of Wednesday's shockingly close vote. But Hill sources say most of the credit for the amendment's defeat goes to someone else: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. It's an odd turn, considering that Pelosi has been, on many occasions, a vocal surveillance critic.

But ahead of the razor-thin 205-217 vote, which would have severely limited the NSA's ability to collect data on Americans' telephone records if passed, Pelosi privately and aggressively lobbied wayward Democrats to torpedo the amendment, a Democratic committee aid with knowledge of the deliberations tells The Cable.

"Pelosi had meetings and made a plea to vote against the amendment and that had a much bigger effect on swing Democratic votes against the amendment than anything Alexander had to say," said the source, keeping in mind concerted White House efforts to influence Congress by Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. "Had Pelosi not been as forceful as she had been, it's unlikely there would've been more Democrats for the amendment."
It should be a major embarrassment that only 94 Republicans voted to support the bill. The NSA's surveillance is one of the worst symptoms of Statism, and any Republican that voted against the bill should be investigated to determine if they are merely stupid, or a closet liberal. Or, perhaps, they are being blackmailed....

Unfortunately, even if Snowden safely sequestered in Russia, the hits just keep coming as to the extraordinary steps that the Feds have taken to monitor you and me--to map our personalities. CNET reports:

The U.S. government has demanded that major Internet companies divulge users' stored passwords, according to two industry sources familiar with these orders, which represent an escalation in surveillance techniques that has not previously been disclosed.
If the government is able to determine a person's password, which is typically stored in encrypted form, the credential could be used to log in to an account to peruse confidential correspondence or even impersonate the user. Obtaining it also would aid in deciphering encrypted devices in situations where passwords are reused.
... Some of the government orders demand not only a user's password but also the encryption algorithm and the so-called salt, according to a person familiar with the requests. A salt is a random string of letters or numbers used to make it more difficult to reverse the encryption process and determine the original password. Other orders demand the secret question codes often associated with user accounts.
... An attorney who represents Internet companies said he has not fielded government password requests, but "we've certainly had reset requests -- if you have the device in your possession, than a password reset is the easier way."

 The article indicates that the tech companies have refused to provide passwords, so far. Considering their cooperation in other matters, however, this seems doubtful.

The article goes on to discuss the encryption algorithms and the importance of long passwords using numbers and special symbols in addition to letters. However, there is a caveat:

Even if "the NSA is asking for access to hashed bcrypt passwords," Mazières said, "that doesn't necessarily mean they are cracking them." Easier approaches, he said, include an order to extract them from the server or network when the user logs in -- which has been done before -- or installing a keylogger at the client.
 And if you weren't paranoid enough, this article from Tech Dirt discusses how the Feds are able to track and monitor data streams (video or audio) from cell phones that the user has turned off. (This is actually something that I think people have been aware of for some time, but it is a good reminder, particularly since some phones--such as the IPhone--do not have removable batteries). Snowden asked reporters to place their phones in a refrigerator, which would probably be enough to muffle the voices of the people in the room.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Facebook Recovering Lost Ground?

Facebook had an initial IPO price of $38 per share, briefly climbing to $45, then slowly declining last year. Many people, including myself, believe that Facebook had been overpriced and overhyped. Could I have been wrong? Bloomberg reports on a recent surge of Facebook stock prices based on higher than expected revenue. Facebook closed at $34.36 yesterday. So, if you bought stock at the IPO price, you are still in negative territory. While the Bloomberg article discusses that Facebook has been able to successfully transfer advertising to mobile platforms, it does not discuss the number of users and whether that number is increasing, decreasing, or holding steady. And that, over the long-term, will be the important factor.

Members of "Pink Panther" Gang Escape From Swiss Prison

A member of the notorious 'Pink Panther' jewel thief gang escaped from a Swiss prison after accomplices rammed a gate and overpowered guards with bursts from their AK-47s, police said Friday.

Bosnian national Milan Poparic, 34, fled from the Orbe prison in the western canton of Vaud.
He is the third member of the Pink Panthers to escape from a Swiss prison in as many months, according to Vaud police.

He escaped with with fellow inmate Adrian Albrecht, 52 on Thursday.

Poparic had been serving a sentence of six years and eight months for robbing a jewellery store in the Swiss city of Neuchatel in 2009. Albrecht was serving a seven-year prison sentence for various crimes including robbery, arson and money laundering.

Police said Poparic was part of the Pink Panthers network, prime suspects in a series of spectacular thefts. According to Interpol the group has targeted luxury watch and jewelry stores in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States, netting over 330 million euros ($436 million) since 1999.

The two accomplices rammed the compound with two vehicles, clearing away barbed wire for the escape, then fled with the two escapees in one vehicle and set fire to the other.

Tales of the "White Taliban"

From the New York Times:

And now we may be seeing a new legend take shape, built on whispered accounts of brief sightings: tales of the White Taliban of Arghandab.

The mystery has many layers, perhaps starting with the fact that American Special Operations teams are a particular focus of apprehension and fascination for many Afghans. Few locals ever interact closely with the commandos, who move in secret as they conduct training missions and raid homes in remote areas, prosecuting an unpopular war out of public sight.

Ask most rural Afghans what they know about the American Special Ops guys, and they will talk about beards. Unlike the usually clean-shaven and uniformed conventional forces, the American commandos grow their beards out.

Usually, that doesn’t hide much. Coarse American accents and brusque movements would give them away even if they were trying to blend in.

But out in the Arghandab Valley of Kandahar Province, one of the most volatile regions in the country, locals talk about a different breed of American Special Operations forces who settled in around 2005. They are said to drive civilian vehicles, wear local clothes, speak good Pashto – and yes, sport thick beards.

They are so good at blending in that the locals have taken to calling them “Spin Taliban” – Pashto for White Taliban – because of their resemblance to the actual Afghan Taliban, including the trademark black, puffy turbans.
 Read the whole thing.

Haliburton Pleads Guilty ...

... to destroying records related to the BP oil spill. The evidence destroyed would have supported BP's contention that it was not negligent in using fewer steel rings to stabilize the concrete work than had been recommended by Halliburton. So, does this mean that the government will return some of the fines payed by BP?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Trevyn Martin High On "Lean" When He Was Killed? (Updated)

Martin's purchase of Skittles and "tea" (actually, Arizona Watermelon Juice) may have been part of a recipe to concoct "Lean," a street drug mixture made from cough syrup and soda with Skittles for added flavor. The mixture can cause a "high" similar to PCP, including heightened anxiety. Another fact conveniently overlooked by the prosecutor?

Updated: Bill Whittle also discusses this in his video on the lynching of Zimmerman.

Tax Crackdown in Europe Forces Money Into Art

Der Spiegel reports that due to international pressure on Swiss banks to reveal account information to taxing authorities, the rich have begun withdrawing money from the bank, and putting it into commodities, works of art, etc., that are then stored in warehouses--away from the prying eyes of the tax man. From the article:

Those who use the warehouse are genuinely wealthy. According to the Capgemini World Wealth Report, there were 12 million millionaires in the world last year, with combined assets of $46.2 trillion (€35 trillion), or 10 percent more than in the previous year.

But even if the world's rich are getting richer, many of them are also worried. The financial crisis isn't over yet, and tax havens worldwide are under pressure to disclose the identities of people whose assets are parked in their banks.

Recently, even Swiss bankers have been sending letters to their clients, asking them to cooperate with tax authorities and consider turning themselves in. This only heightens fears of the tax authorities. "We assume that a total of hundreds of billions of francs will flow out of Switzerland," said the head of the asset management division of UBS, a major Swiss bank, in late 2012.

From Banks to Warehouses

But not everything the banks are losing is actually leaving Switzerland. Customers are admittedly emptying out their accounts and safe deposit boxes. But partly as a result of the many uncertainties in the financial markets, a growing share of the money is being invested in tangible assets, such as art, wine and classic cars. A total of $4 trillion has reportedly been invested in "treasure assets," a category including various kinds of precious objects.

This requires warehouse space that satisfies the most stringent security requirements. Swiss military bunkers blasted deep into Alpine rock are in great demand. But the free ports in Geneva and Zurich are even more popular because they offer what Swiss banks used to: the freedoms of a tax haven and maximum discretion.

3-D Printing Expected to Boom Starting Next Year

The Atlantic reports that key patents for 3-D printers using laser sintering will expire, allowing competition and, accordingly, lower priced printers affordable to home users and hobbyists. The article explains that current low cost 3-D printers are really devices for testing concepts--their resolution is too poor for finished products. That will change with printers using laser sintering:

These patents cover a technology known as "laser sintering," the lowest-cost 3D-printing technology. Because of its high resolution in all three dimensions, laser sintering can produce goods that can be sold as finished products.

... With the expiration of patents on laser sintering 3D printing, however, all of that is about to change. Currently, designers who want to go from idea to finished product in a matter of hours, and create finished products to sell to the public--like these accessories for Google Glass--have to order 3D prints from a company like Shapeways. The problem is, Shapeways' services are in such demand that it takes two weeks to get a finished product from the company, which is hardly the future of instant manufacturing that 3D printing was supposed to enable.
 As to the price dropping, the article notes:

A similar sequence involving the lifting of intellectual property barriers, a rise in competition, and a huge drop in price is likely to play out again in laser deposition 3D printers, says Shapeways' Scott. "This is what happened with FDM," he says. "As soon as the patents expired, everything exploded and went open-source, and now there are hundreds of FDM machines on the market. An FDM machine was $14,000 five years ago and now it's $300."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Shifting the Blame

A couple days ago, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, former director of the NSA and CIA, wrote an op-ed for CNN suggesting that Edward Snowden is not only a traitor, but the worst of any in U.S. history. He names three potential harms caused by Snowden: (1) that by learning how the NSA gathers data, it will change how our enemies communicate; (2) economic harm to American companies that provided information to the NSA; and (3) erosion of confidence that America can keep anything secret. Hayden concludes:
The appropriate balance between liberty and security has bedeviled free peoples, including Americans, for centuries. But it takes a special kind of arrogance for this young man to believe that his moral judgment on the dilemma suddenly trumps that of two (incredibly different) presidents, both houses of the U.S. Congress, both political parties, the U.S. court system and more than 30,000 of his co-workers.
Let us be clear here. The NSA, FBI, CIA, White House, Congress, etc., created this problem because of their overreaching on gathering intelligence. If they had followed the letter and spirit of the 4th Amendment, rather than whatever twisted meaning they have given it (which interpretation is still secret), this would not have been an issue.

But let's look at Hayden's specific allegations.

First, he contends that it has changed how our enemies communicate. However, it has been noted that the Prism system disclosed by Snowden is not useful against sophisticated targets, but only the dumbest of terrorists (or the public). Either the government has been lying to us about the sophistication of terrorists, or its lying to us about the impact of Snowden's revelations. However, it is certainly changing how potential targets of industrial espionage are reacting. I believe Hayden's real fear is not what Snowden has leaked, but what he might leak about just how far the government has gone in surveilling us, including recording our movements and people with whom we associate.

Second, Hayden contends that it will harm those companies that provided data to the NSA. Probably true. Many of those companies broke the privacy laws of various countries in which they were operating, and may face legal sanctions. Like any other business based on information, these companies rely on customers trusting them to safeguard data. The fact that they cannot be trusted will harm them. But it was sheer arrogance to think that such huge data mining operations could forever remain secret. Snowden didn't compromise these companies--the NSA, CIA, FBI, White House and Congress did.

Third, Hayden claims that it erodes confidence that America can keep anything secret. I would have thought the politically expedient leaks from the White House and senior Administration officials and Wikileaks mess would have already made that clear. However, the real trust issue here isn't that the U.S. can't keep secrets, but that the U.S. can't be trusted to NOT spy on everyone. Again, it wasn't Snowden that jeopardized trust in the U.S., but the intelligence agencies and senior government officials that approved these activities.

What I find interesting is the paragraph I quoted. For instance, Hayden wrote: "his moral judgment on the dilemma suddenly trumps that of two (incredibly different) presidents, both houses of the U.S. Congress, both political parties, the U.S. court system and more than 30,000 of his co-workers." Is Hayden suggesting that Bush and Obama knew and approved the extent of the data collection going on? Also, does he seriously believe that Congress debated this issue? "When surveillance programs are secret and the government lies about them, it is hard to have a debate about their value and their compatibility with civil liberties." Or that the FISA court (which is basically a rubber-stamp) represents the Court system? What about the moral judgment of the American people?

And then there was this: "The appropriate balance between liberty and security has bedeviled free peoples...." Read that again. Hayden is admitting that the issue here is not spying on our enemies, but domestic spying. Spying on the American people.

I would suggest that it is Hayden and those like him that are the real threat to our national security. After all, Snowden is not the one violating our Constitution and Bill of Rights on a daily basis.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Riots in France NOT Because of Ban on Veils

The majority of reports indicate that the recent riots by Muslim youth in France is because of the ban on woman veiling their faces. Not so, reports France 24:

Trappes is one of the biggest hubs of cannabis traffic in Europe, he [Francis Legallou, Alliance Police Union’s local representative] said. The town has a deep-rooted criminal culture and a strictly observed code of silence that “makes policing here extremely difficult.”

Trappes also has a high level of youth unemployment, and while there is a “small number of [ultra-orthodox] Salafists in the town”, Legallou said, the underlying cause of the weekend’s rioting was not religious – a sentiment shared by many of the locals who spoke to FRANCE 24.

“The ID check on the veiled woman was just the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.

“Most of the rioters were young people, yobs, who are unemployed, bored and simply want a clash with the police. Violence could return at any time.”

Coyote Attack on 2 Year Old California Girl

Fox News reports a coyote attack on a two-year old girl in California. The story says that reports of coyote attacks are rare. Actually, unheard of until recently. However, like many animals, they are losing their fear of humans. And since coyotes have done very well in human inhabited areas, this is not a case of encroachment, such as often argued for bears and cougars.

This isn't the first such incident in Orange County. In September 2012, an Irving man reported being stalked and charged by a coyote, whom he believes was after his 1 year old son. (See also this warning from the City of Irvine).

"Lying in the Age of Obama"

Victor Davis Hansen discusses the rampant lying by the President, his administration, and other elites, citing numerous examples. He then reasons:

There are both age-old and more recent catalysts for lying.
One, lying and plagiarism are forms of narcissism. ...

Two, lying more often than not pays. Take an ethical shortcut and the odds are small that one gets caught. Yes, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Fareed Zakaria were found out. But after brief anguished penance, they reinvented themselves and returned to the level of their prior stature. ...
Liars are good at what they do. Eric Holder certainly is. Again, like a shoplifter, why stop when you have mastered the craft? ...
Three, more recently postmodernism has blurred the divide from reality and truth. ... For thirty years, the acolytes of fakers like Michel Foucault have taught our elites that truth is socially constructed — a relative thing, a power narrative fabricated by those of the right race, gender, and class to perpetuate their privilege. Howard Zinn could publish fantasies because who was to say that they were entirely wrong, and who would dare suggest that his myths were not put to a good cause?
Hansen also explores reasons why we shouldn't lie:

The majority has to tell the truth — to the IRS, to the police, to the DA, to the census — if a consensual society is to work. ...

Two, this often sordid, sometimes beautiful world is not the end. There is transcendence. Lies damage our soul. Selling out in the here and now has consequences later on. If you are religious, your immortal soul is lost. If you are not, at least consider that your legacy, heritage, and remembrance are forever ruined. ...

Third, we must strive to be tragic heroes, .... We must try to tell the truth, not to doctor films, edit tapes, erase talking points, or lie before Congress, fabricate heroic war records, or invent false sources. ...Because we seek to do the right thing with the full resignation that in the here and now we will often still lose and will lose often and gladly telling the truth.
“We always lose,” says Chris at the end of the The Magnificent Seven after he did the right thing. Or to paraphrase the cinematic T.E. Lawrence about Auda Abu Tayi, we will not lie, as do our elites, because it is simply “our pleasure” not to.
 However, the reasons not to lie are as revealing about our lying elites as anything. Because, if telling the truth is necessary for a consensual society, then it is clear that our leaders are not committed to a consensual society; if we shouldn't lie because of eternal consequences, it is obvious that our leaders lack that religious or moral foundation that says that lying is wrong; if we should not lie because it is better to tell the truth and lose, than to tell a lie and win, then our leaders have chosen to win at all costs, even if it means betraying their oaths of office.

Why No Compromise Is Possible On Gun Control

I had written some time ago about how the Left likes to "compromise", writing:

Liberals compromise like a mugger. First, they demand our "wallet," so we give them increased taxing and regulatory power over business, thinking this will be it; then they want our "watch," so we accept more gun control and funding of abortion just to appease them; then they want our "jewelry," so we give them special rights for everyone under the sun; now they are asking for our clothes, and soon our lives.

This is not true compromise, or they would be giving up something themselves. If they want higher taxes, then they should have to give up all the alphabet agencies that regulate businesses. If they want gay marriage, then they should have to give up the National Firearms Act and Obamacare. If they want homosexuals to be a protected class under Title VII, then they should have to give up the FHAA and Title IX.That would be true compromise.
My thoughts are echoed in David Hardy's article at Reason Magazine on why gun owners are correct to reject offers of compromise from the anti-gun fanatics:

In April, the Senate rejected the Toomey-Manchin gun control proposal. In the wake of its defeat many asked why gun owners and their organizations resisted so limited a measure. ... But why not accept something so modest, in light of the draconian ideas then being floated as alternatives?

Understanding the rejection requires understanding gun owners’ shared experiences. Compromise requires that both parties relinquish something. If your counterpart’s position is “give me this now, and I’ll take the rest later,” there is no real compromise to be had. Over decades, that has been precisely the experience of American gun owners.

... The change [a shift in focus from handguns to all guns] underscored a lesson gun owners had already learned. Their opponents would go for any target of opportunity—if handgun restrictions didn’t fly, try to restrict rifles—and use that as a foundation to take more in the future. Any “reasonable compromise” would simply be a first step in a long campaign to make firearm ownership as difficult, expensive, and legally risky as possible.
 The article describes examples of victories and failures at the national level, and uses California as an example of the "slippery slope" argument. The one thing I would fault the author on was the 1987 banning of the manufacture of fully-automatic weapons for civilian sale following the attack on President Reagan, which resulted in the serious injuries to James Brady. An attack that had nothing to do with automatic weapons. Yet that was the first shift to banning all "scary looking" rifles.

Anyway, read the whole thing. (H/t Instapundit).

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Workers Lose Their Ambition at 35

The Daily Mail reports:

Workers lose their ambition at the age of 35, a study has found.
Researchers in the U.S. found that ambition at work had declined overall in the past 15 years - especially among men.

The age of 35 is the age when men and women no longer compete with their colleagues for promotion or seek greater responsibility in their roles.
... As reported by The Times, in 1992, 59 per cent of men of all ages said they wanted more power and responsibility in their jobs. But by 2008, this was figure was down to just 44 per cent. 

Melting of Ice Sheets--3 to 5 Million Years Ago

Global warming five million years ago may have caused parts of Antarctica's large ice sheets to melt and sea levels to rise by approximately 65 feet, according to a new study.
Researchers from Imperial College London studied mud samples to learn about ancient melting of the East Antarctic ice sheet.

They discovered that melting took place repeatedly between five and three million years ago, during a geological period called Pliocene Epoch, which may have caused sea levels to rise approximately 32 feet (ten metres).

McCain Throws In With The Democrats, Again

Senator McCain--the one that would have been President in 2008 if he hadn't sabotaged his running mate--had once again thrown in with the Democrats on the Travyn Martin verdict in questioning whether states should have "stand your ground" laws. Those laws reverse a modern judicial trend of requiring a person who is attacked to retreat (i.e., run away) if they have an opportunity. With the much larger Martin on top of him, slamming his head into the concrete, Zimmerman never had an opportunity to retreat, and the Florida law was not an issue at his trial.

McCain also says that he can understand why people think the Zimmerman verdict was wrong and that he isn't attacking the Second Amendment (which the Supreme Court has stated relates to the right of self-defense).

Rise of the Warrior Cop

Radley Balko posts a piece at the Wall Street Journal about the militarization of the police in America. From the article:

During the Reagan administration, SWAT-team methods converged with the drug war. By the end of the 1980s, joint task forces brought together police officers and soldiers for drug interdiction. National Guard helicopters and U-2 spy planes flew the California skies in search of marijuana plants. When suspects were identified, battle-clad troops from the National Guard, the DEA and other federal and local law enforcement agencies would swoop in to eradicate the plants and capture the people growing them.

Advocates of these tactics said that drug dealers were acquiring ever bigger weapons and the police needed to stay a step ahead in the arms race. There were indeed a few high-profile incidents in which police were outgunned, but no data exist suggesting that it was a widespread problem. A study done in 1991 by the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute found that less than one-eighth of 1% of homicides in the U.S. were committed with a military-grade weapon. Subsequent studies by the Justice Department in 1995 and the National Institute for Justice in 2004 came to similar conclusions: The overwhelming majority of serious crimes are committed with handguns, and not particularly powerful ones.

The new century brought the war on terror and, with it, new rationales and new resources for militarizing police forces. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Department of Homeland Security has handed out $35 billion in grants since its creation in 2002, with much of the money going to purchase military gear such as armored personnel carriers. In 2011 alone, a Pentagon program for bolstering the capabilities of local law enforcement gave away $500 million of equipment, an all-time high.

The past decade also has seen an alarming degree of mission creep for U.S. SWAT teams. When the craze for poker kicked into high gear, a number of police departments responded by deploying SWAT teams to raid games in garages, basements and VFW halls where illegal gambling was suspected. According to news reports and conversations with poker organizations, there have been dozens of these raids, in cities such as Baltimore, Charleston, S.C., and Dallas.

* * *

Assault-style raids have even been used in recent years to enforce regulatory law. Armed federal agents from the Fish & Wildlife Service raided the floor of the Gibson Guitar factory in Nashville in 2009, on suspicion of using hardwoods that had been illegally harvested in Madagascar. Gibson settled in 2012, paying a $300,000 fine and admitting to violating the Lacey Act. In 2010, the police department in New Haven, Conn., sent its SWAT team to raid a bar where police believed there was underage drinking. For sheer absurdity, it is hard to beat the 2006 story about the Tibetan monks who had overstayed their visas while visiting America on a peace mission. In Iowa, the hapless holy men were apprehended by a SWAT team in full gear.

Unfortunately, the activities of aggressive, heavily armed SWAT units often result in needless bloodshed: Innocent bystanders have lost their lives and so, too, have police officers who were thought to be assailants and were fired on, as (allegedly) in the case of Matthew David Stewart.

* * *

What would it take to dial back such excessive police measures? The obvious place to start would be ending the federal grants that encourage police forces to acquire gear that is more appropriate for the battlefield. Beyond that, it is crucial to change the culture of militarization in American law enforcement.

Consider today's police recruitment videos (widely available on YouTube), which often feature cops rappelling from helicopters, shooting big guns, kicking down doors and tackling suspects. Such campaigns embody an American policing culture that has become too isolated, confrontational and militaristic, and they tend to attract recruits for the wrong reasons.

If you browse online police discussion boards, or chat with younger cops today, you will often encounter some version of the phrase, "Whatever I need to do to get home safe." It is a sentiment that suggests that every interaction with a citizen may be the officer's last. Nor does it help when political leaders lend support to this militaristic self-image, as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg did in 2011 by declaring, "I have my own army in the NYPD—the seventh largest army in the world."

The motivation of the average American cop should not focus on just making it to the end of his shift. The LAPD may have given us the first SWAT team, but its motto is still exactly the right ideal for American police officers: To protect and serve.

SWAT teams have their place, of course, but they should be saved for those relatively rare situations when police-initiated violence is the only hope to prevent the loss of life. They certainly have no place as modern-day vice squads.
 (Underline added). Read the whole thing.

The underlined portions seem to match police rationalization for the use of the force. Consider this recent incident from Sarasota, Florida:

After leaving her operating room scrub nurse duties at Sarasota's Doctors Hospital on Wednesday, Louise Goldsberry went to her Hidden Lake Village apartment.

Her boyfriend came over, and after dinner — about 8 p.m. — Goldsberry went to her kitchen sink to wash some dishes.

That's when her boyfriend, Craig Dorris — a manager for a security alarm company — heard her scream and saw her drop to the floor.

Goldsberry, 59, said she had looked up from the sink to see a man “wearing a hunting vest.”

He was aiming a gun at her face, with a red light pinpointing her.

“I screamed and screamed,” she said.

But she also scrambled across the floor to her bedroom and grabbed her gun, a five-shot .38-caliber revolver. ... But she felt anything but safe when she heard a man yelling to open the door.

He was claiming to be a police officer, but the man she had seen looked to her more like an armed thug. Her boyfriend, Dorris, was calmer, and yelled back that he wanted to see some ID.

But the man just demanded they open the door. The actual words, the couple say, were, “We're the f------ police; open the f------ door.”

... Then, to the couple's horror — and as Goldsberry huddled in the hallway with gun in hand — the front door they had thought was locked pushed open. A man edged around the corner and pointed a gun and a fiercely bright light at them, and yelled even more.

“Drop the f------ gun or I'll f------ shoot you,” he shouted, then said it again and again, Goldsberry and Dorris say.

According to the story, Goldsberry and Dorris were handcuffed for half an hour while the police and U.S. Marshals searched the apartment for a man who had never been there and was unknown to Goldsberry and Dorris. The story explains:

Matt Wiggins was the man at the door.

He's with the U.S. Marshal's fugitive division.

... He said they had a tip that a child-rape suspect was at the complex.

That suspect, Kyle Riley, was arrested several hours later in another part of Sarasota.

The tip was never about Goldsberry's apartment, specifically, Wiggins acknowledged. It was about the complex.

But when the people in Goldsberry's apartment didn't open up, that told Wiggins he had probably found the right door. No one at other units had reacted that way, he said.

Maybe none of them had a gun pointed at them through the kitchen window, I suggested. But Wiggins didn't think that was much excuse for the woman's behavior. He said he acted with restraint and didn't like having that gun aimed at him.

“I went above and beyond,” Wiggins said. “I have to go home at night.”

Goldsberry was at home, I said. She had a gun pointed at her, too, and she wasn't wearing body armor and behind a shield. She had no reason to expect police or think police would ever aim into her kitchen and cuss at her through her door to get in. It seemed crazy. She was panicked.

“We were clearly the police,” Wiggins insisted. “She can't say she didn't know.”

She does say so, actually.

“I couldn't see them. They had a big light in my eyes,” Goldsberry said the next day. And that man she saw aiming a gun through her window had nothing visible that said “cop,” in her mind.
 (Underline added). The deputy Marshal maintained that based on what they were doing (washing dishes and screaming hysterically, I suppose) he had probable cause to believe that they were the suspects for which a heavily armed team of police and Marshals were looking. What is truly scary, though, is that he believes that he acted with exemplary restraint by simply not shooting them, even though he was the one to initiate an aggravated assault.. How would Wiggens react is someone pointed a gun with a weapon mounted light at him through his kitchen window, and what would he think if he was on the receiving end of such obviously incompetent weapon's handling and piss poor police work.

Another point, which I didn't quote above, is that one of the reasons that Goldsberry didn't believe Wiggins was law enforcement was because she naively believed that no real police officer would swear like Wiggins did. In fact, police are trained to use foul language to terrorize and shock their victims into compliance.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Hypergamy in China

Or, women marrying up. From the Economist:

This habit of hypergamy (ie, marrying a person of higher social station) is documented in a recent Master's thesis by Yue Qian, a PhD candidate at Ohio State University. Although most Chinese newlyweds, like couples everywhere else, are of similar age and education, it is quite common for Chinese women to marry men who are better educated than themselves. As a corollary, men often marry women who are less educated. According to Yue Qian's calculations, 55% of university-educated Chinese men marry a less educated spouse, whereas only 32% of university-educated women do the same.
... But although numbers are on Chinese women's side, time is not. Women's marriage rates drop steeply after they turn 30 (see the chart below adapted from Yue Qian's thesis), something that is much less true for men. One explanation for this is hypergamy of a different kind: older husbands often take younger wives, but older women rarely marry younger men. The odds of a man marrying a younger spouse are almost 50 times as high as the odds of a woman doing so, according to Yue Qian. This "age hypergamy" has uneven effects on women's marital prospects. It improves the chances of younger women even further: they have plenty of men their own age to go around and they can also marry older men as well. But it hurts the chances of older women, who must compete with younger rivals for men their own age.
The upshot is that first marriage rates for young women are much higher than for young men. But unmarried women in their thirties are less likely to marry than thirtysomething men, despite being outnumbered by them (see chart). Women, especially "A-quality" women, who do not marry early often do not marry at all. Indeed, women over 30 who boast a university education have even lower marriages rates than poorly educated, similarly aged men who lack a high-school education.
Also this:
 There is an opinion that A quality guys will find B quality women, B quality guys will find C quality women, and C quality men will find D quality women...The people left are A quality women and D quality men. 

King David Palace Suggests That The Kingdom Was Organized and Complex

This is contrary to the standard supposition that the ancient Israel kingdom of David and Solomon was a myth. From LiveScience:

Archaeologists say they've uncovered two royal buildings from Israel's biblical past, including a palace suspected to have belonged to King David.

The findings at Khirbet Qeiyafa — an fortified hilltop city about 19 miles (30 kilometers) southwest of Jerusalem — indicate that David, who defeated Goliath in the Bible, ruled a kingdom with a great political organization, the excavators say.

"This is unequivocal evidence of a kingdom's existence, which knew to establish administrative centers at strategic points," read a statement from archaeologists Yossi Garfinkel of the Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

... Prior radiocarbon analysis on burnt olive pits at the site indicated that it existed between 1020 B.C. and 980 B.C., before being violently destroyed, likely in a battle against the Philistines. Much of the palace was further wrecked 1,400 years later when a Byzantine farmhouse was built on the site.

Detroit Bankruptcy A Result of Political Pandering

Daniel Fisher, at Forbes, notes:

Cities like Detroit — and states like Illinois, California and Connecticut — got into fiscal trouble because their political leaders spent too much and promised too much to public-sector employees in the form of future pension benefits. That’s a fundamental problem with elective politics, of course: It’s easier for today’s politicians to make promises they can’t keep than deliver financial reality to their constituents. In that sense, pension underfunding is one of the main tools politicians use to get around state laws requiring balanced budgets.

“Bankruptcy doesn’t fix that problem,” Skeel said, but it might make politicians think twice about making pension promises they can’t keep, especially since many of them participate in the same plans, with higher projected payouts than typical employees. (One senior Texas legislator stood to earn 660% of his state salary in retirement, Skeel’s article notes.)

“One problem with unsustainable pensions is we really didn’t have both sides at the bargaining table,” since politicians were the beneficiaries of both pensions and the votes of government employees. “The bankruptcy option forces the parties, particularly the recipients of these pensions, to recognize they may not be sustainable in a reorganization.”

Our Tax Dollars On Vacation

After a hard week of stoking racism,  Obama is off on yet another vacation.

The First Family are heading back to Martha's Vineyard for a luxurious summer vacation, and are reportedly renting a secluded six-bedroom property worth an estimated $7.6 million.

President Barack Obama, wife Michelle and their two daughters missed out on a trip to the exclusive island last year due to campaigning in the 2012 elections.

But they are making up for it this year and jetting off to Massachusetts on August 10 for a week. Their nearest neighbors will be Cheers star Ted Danson and Oscar-winning wife Mary Steenburgen.
It's good to be king.

Federal Court vs. State Court Showdown?

The Detroit Free Press reports:

An Ingham County judge says Thursday's historic Detroit bankruptcy filing violates the Michigan Constitution and state law and must be withdrawn.

But Attorney General Bill Schuette said he will appeal Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s Friday rulings and seek emergency consideration by the Michigan Court of Appeals. He wants her orders stayed pending the appeals, he said in a news release.

In a spate of orders today arising from three separate lawsuits, Aquilina said Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr must take no further actions that threaten to diminish the pension benefits of City of Detroit retirees.
The only catch is that, according to the article, the bankruptcy filing was made 5 minutes before Judge Aquilina's hearing began. I'm not a bankruptcy lawyer, but it seems to me that she should have lost jurisdiction because of the automatic stay under bankruptcy law. There may also be a federal law preemption issue.

Conservatives and the Snob Factor

David Solway writes about the deep division among conservatives because of class distinctions:

It seems me that the fault in the conservative orientation resides not so much in the intellect per se as in the will, a volitional exhaustion, a weakening of purpose expressed as a gradual turn toward the liberal perspective. Intellect is then mobilized to justify the backsliding tendencies of the will, as if in a rerun of the historical debate between two great Medieval theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. Aquinas argued that intellect determines truth and the will carries out the appropriate actions. Scotus held otherwise; the will bloweth where it listeth, and the intellect assembles the arguments to support its appetitive pursuits.

... But there is another, equally perilous rift that alienates a part of the conservative community from itself, namely class consciousness. Many of those who have benefitted from an elite university education and hail from prosperous families tend to react with suspicion, or even with a certain disdain, toward their lower-and-working class counterparts who speak with regional accents, prefer tankards to carafes and are, on the whole, less erudite and articulate than those whom I call “palatine conservatives.” ...

... The conservative “institution” is enfeebled by these two inherently disruptive factors: a depletion of the political will, and the specter of class distinctions — and it is the left that profits from this infusorial derangement. But it is most disheartening to observe the extent to which sociolectical disparities and class assumptions, generally from the top down, can introduce a spirit of discord and superciliousness among those who should be, as it were, above such congenital hauteur.
IMHO, the class disdain is even greater among the so-called "liberals," than among the so-called "conservatives." Most liberals political beliefs are built upon disdain for a particular group of people--the rampant killing by abortion of minority children, the anti-American and anti-Christian ideologies they support, feminism, anti-gun, etc. I suspect that a lot of the stunts pulled by the Democrats--the election irregularities, the unceasing attempts to inflame the Democratic base, the endless campaigning, the attempts to consolidate and centralize power, misuse of the bureaucracy, the blatant lies--are symptoms of a deep rooted panic among the Democratic elite.

I would also point out that "conservatives" are actually blendings of two basic groups: true conservatives and classical liberals. (Obviously, the reality is much more complicated, but that is why I chose the term "blendings"). Unfortunately, the true conservatives are generally just as statist as the falsely named "liberals" (i.e., the liberal fascists) on the left. "A house divided cannot stand," and until the Republicans make a choice between being statists or classical liberals, they will have difficulty fielding national level candidates that can gather the necessary popularity to win.

Detroit Down

Detroit is no longer circling the drain, but is going down. Detroit has become the largest city to declare bankruptcy...after Obama (who had promised to not abandon Detroit) turned down a request for Federal assistance.  As Glenn Reynolds like to point out, every Obama promise comes with an expiration date. Things are unlikely to change because Detroit, like most cities, is inherently opposed to small business and competition--they are, after all, statists of the most virulent kind.

(H/t Instapundit)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Barclays Fined $453M for Manipulating Energy Markets (Updated)

Another financial market conspiracy. The Daily Mail reports:

Barclays and four of its traders have been fined $453million (£298million) by US regulators for manipulating power prices - just a year after the bank was hit with a then record £290million for rigging Libor.

In a fresh blow for the scandal-hit bank, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission also ordered the lender to pay at least $34.9million (£23million) of 'unjust profits' to the low-income home energy assistance programmes of Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington.

FERC, which upheld fines first imposed in October, accused Barclays and its traders of a 'co-ordinated and intentional effort' to fix electricity prices in California and other western US states between November 2006 and December 2008.
Update: JP Morgan rumored to be preparing to pay fines of $1 billion for manipulating energy markets.

U.S. regulators and J.P. Morgan Chase are close to a monster settlement over allegations that the banking giant tampered with electricity markets in California and the Midwest, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Sources told the Journal the deal could come in close to a staggering $1 billion, the largest payout in the history of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which overseas power trading markets.

India Set To Become Worlds Largest Economy?

But after China becomes the world’s largest economy around 2023, it will itself be overtaken by India around 2048, predicts Mr McWilliams.

“We are only part way through a major process that is set to continue for the next 50 years at least,” he said.

The consequences of this Asian industrialisation present a major challenge to Western economies, even threatening the UK with the risk of becoming a next Greece, Mr McWilliams said on Thursday evening in his inaugural lecture as the Mercers’ School Memorial Gresham Professor of Commerce.

The danger arises because the pace of change in the rapidly growing East has been so fast that its citizens have not yet become used to prosperity, he argued.
“They behave with the hunger of societies that are poor even though they are becoming [and in some cases like Hong Kong and Singapore have already become] rich,” he said. “They don’t take prosperity for granted.”

According to his figures, the average Singaporean works 2,307 hours a year and the average Hong Konger works 2,287 hours. In contrast, the British average is 1,625 hours, while our tax rates are also higher.

Yet in Singapore, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is already 30pc higher than in the UK. In Hong Kong it is 50pc, said Mr McWilliams.

If Western economies do not adjust their policies to match those of the competitive economies in the East, he said “there is a risk that the rest of Europe, including even countries outside the single currency like the UK, could slide in the same way that Greece now has into first stagnation and then economic collapse”.
 I don't believe that China will become the world's biggest economy by 2023. It can't maintain its economic growth, and, in fact, its economy is already beginning to slow. Demographics don't favor its continued growth, and its poor record of protecting private property rights makes it an unlikely candidate for long-term continued growth. I'm not saying that China's economy will suddenly collapse--but I think it will follow Japan into a period of relative stagnation. In fact, if there were other sources of low cost labor, China would likely being do worse than it is.

I doubt India will become the largest economy within the time frame stated, but I believe its long term prospects are considerably brighter than China's because of its higher birthrate, the wide spread use of English (the lingua franca of the modern world), and the fact that it has developed into an, overall, stable democracy. I don't know what their legal system and private property rights are like, though, or their overall work ethic.

Monday, July 15, 2013

My Thoughts on the Zimmerman Verdict

A friend and colleague asked me today regarding my thoughts on the Zimmerman verdict. Let's be honest. Although we can speculate, we will never know exactly what happened that night. Other than Zimmerman, no one alive witnessed all the events.

But that isn't the point. The state of Florida had an evidentiary burden to meet--"beyond a reasonable doubt." Not only could they not meet this burden, they didn't even come close. The prosecution lacked evidence to dispute Zimmerman's assertion of self-defense, and the state's own investigators--the police that actually questioned the suspects and examined the evidence--had determined that Martin's death was justified. The state's case appears to have been based on nothing more than speculation, assumption and outrage. If prosecutors didn't have immunity for bringing a charge, this matter probably would have been dropped long before.

Now we have protests across the nation, and even attacks on Hispanics. (See here and here). Apparently the protesters would prefer a legal system where you are assumed to be guilty unless you can prove otherwise. (Which, because of the defense of self-defense, Zimmerman essentially did). Except, I'm fooling myself. They simply want mob justice, or to simply feel better about themselves by supporting something they see as chic and popular. The only winners out of this will be the politicians and their media sycophants.

Yet the real question that should be on our mind is how many people are subject to the same type of frivolous prosecutions without the benefit of an attorney as skilled as Zimmerman's, and the moral fortitude to fight it out rather than agree to a plea bargain. 

Sacre Bleu! Competition Between Hospitals

The Blaze reports that a surgery center in Oklahoma City has managed to keep medical costs down through the simple expediency of competition by posting their prices for procedures online, starting about four years ago. However, this is also a key point:

“Surgery Center of Oklahoma does accept private insurance, but the center does not accept Medicaid or Medicare,” the report continues. “Dr. Smith said federal Medicare regulation would not allow for their online price menu.”
They have been able to avoid government regulations in that area by simply not accepting Medicaid or Medicare payments.
Allowing (or even requiring) hospitals and doctors to publicly post prices would probably do more to reduce the costs of medical care than any government health insurance plan, including the misnamed "Affordable Care Act" (aka, ObamaCare). Yet, the government actually prohibits it. 

(H/t Instapundit)

Tossing Martin Luther King's Dream in the Trash

A Hispanic/black/white man with a German surname was attacked by a black/white young man with a French or German surname, in the which course, the young man repeatedly punched and slammed the man's head to the ground. The man shot the young man, killing him. 

The U.S. President, who is 50+% white, wrongfully poked his nose into what is a local criminal matter, inciting tensions by claiming that the young man is like what his (the President's) son would be like if he had a son...except that his son, if he'd had one, would be attending Harvard. Perhaps there would be similarities, though:

Trayvon Martin Photos   Obamas Personal Cannabis Policies: Interception and Total Absorption

In any event, reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, the mob calls for the man's death. Unlike To Kill a Mockingbird, however, the jury acquits the man. What follows is a wailing and gnashing of teeth by the mob, including this comment from Anthea Butler blasting God as a racist:
Their god is the god that wants to erase race, make everyone act “properly” and respect, as the president said, “a nation of laws”; laws that they made to crush those they consider inferior.
(Emphasis mine). Compare this to what Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1963:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
(Emphasis mine). Unfortunately, his dream is not that of Ms. Butler ... nor, I suspect, those mired in identity politics.

The sad part is that the obsession with identity politics has wedded blacks to political leaders that don't care about addressing the real problems facing blacks today. They would rather live in 1963, and face the relatively simple problems of that era, than acknowledge that progressive policies, including the welfare state, are slowly killing off the blacks of this nation. David Goldman notes:

The leaders of what used to be a civil rights movement want to talk about everything but the main problem afflicting black people in the United States. That is the breakdown of the black family.
Just 29% of black women over the age of 15 were married in 2010, according to the Census Bureau’s comprehensive Current Population Survey. That compares to 54% of white women. At all ages, black women were about half as likely to be married as white women. ...

The percentage of out-of-wedlock births has risen from 18% in 1980 to 40% in 2010. 29% of white births were non-marital, against 73% for black births. That’s nearly three-quarters of all black births.

Young black men without a high school diploma are more likely to be in jail than to be employed, reports the Pew Institute ... 
The report also shows more than 2.7 million minor children now have a parent behind bars, or 1 in every 28. For African American children the number is 1 in 9, a rate that has more than quadrupled in the past 25 years.

The worst oppressors of young black men are older black men who abandon their children. And the second-worst oppressors of young black men are other young black men. 94% of black murder victims are killed by blacks. The accelerating decline of the black family portends a much worse situation in the future.

Why have civil rights organizations and black clergy wagered their reputations on the Zimmerman case? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the issues that really concern African-Americans simply are too painful to discuss. ...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Post-Zimmerman Trial

As expected, there have been coast-to-coast demonstrations after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the killing of Travyn Martin. However, the Justice Department is ready to take a second bite at the apple:

In a move which could have dramatic ramifications, the Justice Department confirmed today that it will look into the shooting death of Trayvon Martin to determine whether federal prosecutors should file criminal charges against George Zimmerman in the wake of his acquittal.

The department opened an investigation into Martin's death last year but stepped aside to allow the state prosecution to proceed.

In a statement Sunday, the Justice Department said the criminal section of the civil rights division, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office for the Middle District of Florida are continuing to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal probe, in addition to the evidence and testimony from the state trial.

The statement said that, in the government's words, 'experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation.'
Will Hispanics protest if Zimmerman faces a second trial?

"The Date Rape of America"

I'm reading Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom" so it is interesting to see these three articles (h/t Instapundit):

First, John Ransom, at Townhall Finance, laments the demise of the rule of law:

Government seems to do least of all what it should, and mostly what it shouldn’t be doing. These backward policies don’t emanate just on the Democrat side of the aisle, but also on the Republican side.
So let’s just say that it’s a bipartisan problem.

Arming Al Qaeda is a bipartisan problem; free mortgages for everyone is a bipartisan problem; Social Security that offers neither security nor social benefits is a bipartisan problem; immigration laws that are hopelessly broken is a bipartisan problem; 70,000 pages of IRS code that’s a hopeless mess and a petri dish for corruption is a bipartisan problem; 10th amendment violations are a bipartisan problem; spying on citizens, while ignoring the terrorists, is a bipartisan problem; allowing our fiscal and monetary policies to be dictated by a narrow set of Wall Streeters is a bipartisan problem; tracking our children as a substitute for real education reform, which by the way, has failed in America, is a bipartisan problem.

At a time when more people globally are moving out of poverty and into the middle class, in many respects, America has been left behind.

To the extent that America has not benefited from the demographic reality of billions of people worldwide adopting the American mode of life, is the bipartisan problem that we all must face or suffer the consequences.

The financial markets that used to be the envy of the world have been reformed until they have been emasculated politicized and metastasized in another triumph of bipartisanship.

We have come to the point where the rule of law has absolutely no meaning anymore.

Laws are created so purposefully complex that the government can decide at any given time what is or what isn’t the law depending on how they feel about it.

That’s not a republic; that’s a dictatorship.

There is no attempt to varnish it either. The government does what it pleases and we comply.

I used to believe that economics trumped all other arguments. That was when I foolishly believed in the rule of law.

But now I know that the country faces only two choices: liberty or death.
 And from Slate, a bit more on the NSA surveillance:
On Thursday, the Guardian published the latest in a series of scoops about the scope of the NSA’s spying programs, based on documents disclosed by former contractor Edward Snowden. The report outlines how Microsoft secretly worked with the NSA to help the agency tap into its email and chat services, including and Hotmail. Notably, the Guardian also cites documents showing that work began on integrating Skype into the NSA’s Internet surveillance program PRISM in November 2010, several months before Microsoft purchased the service from U.S. private equity firms. By February 2011, the NSA was able to monitor Skype audio calls. In addition, by July last year, the NSA reportedly boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through PRISM.
And, a surprising bit of honesty from a former head of the UK's MI-5:

Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, has warned that the fear of terrorism is being exploited by the Government to erode civil liberties and risks creating a police state.
Dame Stella accused ministers of interfering with people’s privacy and playing straight into the hands of terrorists.
“Since I have retired I feel more at liberty to be against certain decisions of the Government, especially the attempt to pass laws which interfere with people’s privacy,” Dame Stella said in an interview with a Spanish newspaper.
“It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state,” she said.

Book Review: "The Next 100 Years"

BookThe Next 100 Years -- A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman (Amazon link here).

Overview: George Friedman, who is a Stratfor analyst, attempts to predict the general international political trends during the next 100 years. His conclusion is that the United States will remain the single most powerful nation during the next 100 years, notwithstanding challenges from various regional powers. The United States' goal, during that time, will be to keep regional powers from becoming world powers. This will require the United States to maintain control of the seas and to dominate space.

Impressions and Thoughts: Friedman published his book in 2009, which suggests that it was probably mostly written in 2007 and 2008. Thus, it has now been 5 years from its publication, and  can provide some sense if the author correctly identified critical forces and trends. Friedman is careful to be upfront that he has invented certain details--a future history, if you will--to make a more readable narrative. He is also uncertain of specific dates, relying on a basic framework of 20 year periods, which he believes constitute the historical time period for significant events. While perhaps true for the late 19th and the duration of the 20th century, I actually believe that trends will actually accelerate, so his conclusions may actually occur within the next 60 to 80 years, rather than 100 years.

Friedman begins his book by predicting that, rather than declining in power, the United States will actually grow in power, and certainly remain the preeminent world power during the 21st Century.  He notes that geography has played an important role in the power and wealth of nations. The nation that occupies the "hub" of trade has the greatest opportunities to prosper. From the 16th Century onward, the most important trade routes were with Europe, and therefore, the nation(s) that controlled the North Atlantic had the greatest power. Now, however, Asian trade has increased, while the importance of European trades has fallen proportionately. Thus, the nation that can dominate Pacific and North Atlantic trade will be in the greatest position to prosper in the 21st Century. That nation is the United States, which sits astride the Pacific and Atlantic, and already has an economy that, by a degree of magnitude, is larger than its nearest rival.

Friedman spends the next few chapters of his book discussing current forces that are work, His belief is that the U.S.-Jihaddist war is "a passing phase" and "less a coherent movement than a regional spasm." Although fighting and counter-terrorism actions may continue for some time, "the strategic challenge to American power is coming to an end." "The United States has succeeded, not so much in winning the war as preventing the Islamists from winning, and, from a geopolitical perspective, that is good enough." That basic comment--that the United States need only keep some other nation or alliance from winning--is important.

Friedman also believes that much of the cultural conflict in the world is rooted in a fight over the nature and structure of the family--traditionalists versus progressive/feminist/liberal. He suggests that this the upsetting of the traditional family is the root of conflict between the West and Islam. Unfortunately, I think, he lumps all "conservative" family forces together, not distinguishing between Al Qaeda and evangelical Christians. He doesn't seem to understand that the unrest in the Middle East is the consequence of the collapse of Islamic civilization; that the cultural war between Al Qaeda and the West is different from the "Cultural War" within the West. In any event, Friedman writes: "All societies are being torn between traditionalists and those who are attempting to redefine the family, women, and sexuality. ... This conflict is going to intensify in the twenty-first century, but the traditionalists are fighting a defensive and ultimately losing battle. The reason is that over the past hundred years the very fabric of human life--and particularly the life of women--has been transformed, and with it the structure of the family." However, he also notes that "the most meaningful statistic in the world is an overall decline in birthrates." Although Friedman spends some time discussing the concept and implications of demographic winter, it doesn't factor into many of his predictions--except concerning the relationship between the United States and Mexico.

I won't go much into most of Friedman's other predictions in much detail. He believes that the 2020's will see two potential adversaries go down in flames. Russia will lose a second cold war much like it lost the first, and will collapse even further than the Soviet Union did. China, he believes, will be torn apart by internal division, as historically has happened when China opens itself up to foreign trade. The problem is that the coastal regions become rich, while the interior regions remain poor; and that the coastal regions increasingly identify with foreign powers. Thus, Friedman does not see China or Russia as long term rivals of the United States.

Instead, he believes that the most serious rivals to United States power will be from Turkey and Japan, which he believes will become regional economic and military powers. In fact, he believes that there will eventually be a war between the United States and Japan for control of space and the Moon, with a subsidiary war in Europe between Turkey and the U.S.'s ally, Poland (which he sees as a dominant, if not the dominant, European power in 20 or 30 years). Friedman believes that this war will be mid-century.

He sees the war as advancing critical technologies, including space launch and energy production from solar satellites, and propelling the United States into a second golden age, much as WWII gave rise to the economic prosperity of the 1950's and 60's.

His final chapter focuses on divisions in North America. Friedman predicts that, late in the 21st Century "Mexico, after two hundred years, will be in a position to challenge the territorial integrity of the United States, and the entire balance of power of North America." He believes that in response to demographic pressure, the United States will be forced to not only relax immigration restrictions, but eventually, companies  and/or the government will be providing incentives in order to attract immigrants, including from Mexico. But there is more than just this. Friedman notes that, unlike other immigrant groups that are geographically isolated from their home countries, Mexicans retain closer ties to Mexico and, therefore, are less likely to assimilate into American culture. He writes:
But unlike other immigrant groups, Mexicans are not separated from their homelands by oceans and many thousands of miles. They can move across the border a few miles into the United States but still maintain their social and economic links to their homeland. Proximity to the homeland creates a very different dynamic. Rather than a diaspora, at least part of Mexican migration is simply a movement into a borderland between two nations, like Alsace-Lorraine between France and Germany--a place where two cultures intermingle even when the border is stable.
He also notes the concentration of Mexican expatriates and descendants in areas once held by Mexico. "In many ways they represent an extension of their homeland into the United States." By 2060, he believes, "[t]he borderland, extending far into the United States, will become predominantly Mexican. Mexico will have solved its final phase of population growth by extending its nonpolitical boundaries into the Mexican Cession...." "In every sense but legally, the border will have moved north."

He also believes that by 2060, unemployment will begin to rise due to advances in robotics that will displace workers and eliminate the need for attracting immigrants. America will have a surplus population. Yet Mexico will have developed into an important economic power. Friedman believes that this economic prosperity will fuel Mexican nationalism and anti-Americanism at a time that Mexican population along the border region reaches critical mass, and Mexicans in that region see themselves increasingly as Mexican rather than American. He believes that this will exacerbate relations between the two peoples, leading to border and immigration restrictions and internal dispute. He believes that it will lead to the doorstep of civil war, with large protests, terrorism, and with border states resisting the United States government and many supporting succession and/or annexation by Mexico. Friedman predicts that a war will be averted, but it will be by the Mexican president intervening and arguing on behalf of Mexican-Americans. Going into the 2090s, Friedman sees the basic question as which city will be the capital of North America--Washington or Mexico City. Friedman does not attempt to predict this outcome--he believes that is an issue for the 22nd Century, and thus beyond the scope of his book.

I have certain criticisms of the book, some that could have been addressed by the author and some that could not. First, as noted above, I'm disappointed with Friedman lumping conservative Christians with Islamic militants (his "traditionalists"). However, Friedman's views seem to mirror the views of the Federal government--thus the equating of many Christian and libertarian groups with terrorists as disclosed by Homeland Security memos.

Second, and Friedman can't do anything about this, he ignores the prospect of the charismatic leader that shapes, delays, accelerates, or redirects geopolitical forces. I took a class at university that covered European diplomatic history from approximately 1860 through 1945. The professor's premise for the class is that, notwithstanding historical analysis emphasizing geopolitical forces and trends, and intercultural conflict, there was still the place for the individual shaping history. This is the same premise underlying Asimov's character of the Mule in the Foundation trilogy. Reading Friedman's book, I sometimes had the sense of being the people walking into the Foundation's oracle expecting assistance on counteracting the invading tyrant, and instead getting answers to problems that don't exist. Perhaps individuals cannot stop the forces of history, but they can impact these forces, and change the dynamics at critical times. While Friedman describes the United States' grand strategy, I suppose in 2008 that he could not have foreseen an American President that would undermine this grand strategy, or create such deep divisions within the United States.

Third, other than the final chapter on Mexico and Mexican immigration, Friedman does not address any of the forces at work in the United States. He predicts that growing disparity in wealth and power in China will ultimately unbalance that country, but doesn't address some of the same factors in the United States. Perhaps he sees the Federal government as too powerful for regional differences to assert themselves (other than the Mexican problem).

Fourth, Friedman seems to ignore India. He may have good reason to do so, but they are not explained in the book.

Finally, although Friedman discusses declining population, and even cites it as one of the factors leading to the Mexican-American confrontation, he seems to ignore it in other aspects of his book. For instance, he asserts that Japan, Turkey and Poland will arise as regional powers, even though those nations will be dealing with declining populations. Japan and Poland, in particular, have some of the lowest fertility rates in the world. Japan is further facing a marriage crises and a sex crises--the Japanese simply don't want to reproduce. If Japan becomes militarily aggressive in the mid-21st Century, it, too, will be merely a spasm.