Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Thursday, June 30, 2005

A Proper Property Taking

Here's a story that has been bouncing around the blogosphere ever since the United States became a banana republic when Kelo ruling came down and oh.... wouldn't it be so deliciously ironic if it were to come to be.

Weare, New Hampshire (PRWEB) Could a hotel be built on the land owned by Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter? A new ruling by the Supreme Court which was supported by Justice Souter himself itself might allow it. A private developer is seeking to use this very law to build a hotel on Souter's land.

Justice Souter's vote in the "Kelo vs. City of New London" decision allows city governments to take land from one private owner and give it to another if the government will generate greater tax revenue or other economic benefits when the land is developed by the new owner.

On Monday June 27, Logan Darrow Clements, faxed a request to Chip Meany the code enforcement officer of the Towne of Weare, New Hampshire seeking to start the application process to build a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road. This is the present location of Mr. Souter's home.

Clements, CEO of Freestar Media, LLC, points out that the City of Weare will certainly gain greater tax revenue and economic benefits with a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road than allowing Mr. Souter to own the land.

The proposed development, called "The Lost Liberty Hotel" will feature the "Just Desserts Cafe" and include a museum, open to the public, featuring a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America. Instead of a Gideon's Bible each guest will receive a free copy of Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged."

Clements indicated that the hotel must be built on this particular piece of land because it is a unique site being the home of someone largely responsible for destroying property rights for all Americans.

"This is not a prank" said Clements, "The Towne of Weare has five people on the Board of Selectmen. If three of them vote to use the power of eminent domain to take this land from Mr. Souter we can begin our hotel development."

Clements' plan is to raise investment capital from wealthy pro-liberty investors and draw up architectural plans. These plans would then be used to raise investment capital for the project. Clements hopes that regular customers of the hotel might include supporters of the Institute For Justice and participants in the Free State Project among others.

Randy Barnett, a tremendous legal mind writes in his post on the above linked story:
Update: I had posted this link facetiously but see that some commentors, both pro and con, are taking it more seriously. Retaliating against a judge for the good faith exercise of his duty is not only a bad idea, it violates the holding of Kelo itself, for the intent would be to take from A to give to B, in this case to punish A. I had considered deleting this post altogether--and perhaps this would still be a good idea--but, since other blogs had linked to it, decided instead to add this postscript.

I appreciate and respect Randy Barnett's ethical conundrum of not wanting to punish a public figure for a good faith exercise, but if the ruling on Kelo can be so quickly and easily abused into a tool to bludgeon a Supreme Court Justice out of his own home, well I can't think of a better manner to hilight the fatal flaw of the ruling. In essence, if the Towne of Weare can force Souter out of his home, and there certainly will be no disputing that a hotel would bring in more tax revenue than Souter's home, it proves the absolute tragedy of the results of Kelo v City of New Haven.

Highly unlikely to happen I know, but a guy can dream can't he?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Bush's Speech on Iraq

I thought it was a pretty good speech from Bush last night, he was stark and deliberate, which was exactly necessary. The most frustrating thing to me about this administration has been their inability to articulate the reasons for this war and they have been awfully lackluster in touting the successes. I know the reasons, I understand the stakes, but much of that is because blogs such as Glenn Reynolds, Austin Bay, Arthur Chrenkoff, Steven Den Beste and the Belmont Club do such a great job of outlining the case for spreading democracy, and the necessity of battling this kind of evil and driving the rule by gang and violence from the face of the earth. One wonders where we might be if this war happened in a pre-blog era. I don't think it would too far fetched to guess that we might be in the process of withdrawing under the orders of President Kerry - sorry Iraqi civilians, we know you need our help, but we are going to once again abandon you to those with the least scruples about using brutality to advance their own objectives.

As for the media coverage, of course many of the editorials and opinions masquerading as news are calling this a change in strategy from uncovering WMDs to fighting terrorists and building a stable Iraq. Conveniently they gloss over the fact that WMDs were only part of an overwhelming case for removing Saddam. If you'll recall it was Colin Powell and the State Department that wanted to emphasize WMDs, and I guess it made some sense in the context of persuading the UN security council. The Bush administration realized that the humanitarian angle of deposing an absolutely demonic dictator and fostering democracy in its place would carry no weight with the UN, and neither would the argument that Saddam was in clear violation of countless security council resolutions. That's not very flattering for the UN, especially given their whole purpose for being.

But go read Ed Morrissey's take, he does an outstanding job of taking on the editorializing of the LAT, NYT, WaPo et al. Still, it's a bit troubling that bloggers working for free can be more effective in communicating what will be the defining policy of this administration better than the administration itself.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Semi-Random Euro-Thoughts

Meant to post this last week, but never got to it. Anyway, just some observations on European politics.

First, note that George Bush, Tony Blair, and John Howard of Australia were the three most supportive leaders of deposing Saddam Hussein. They have all been re-elected in the past year.

On the other side, Jacque Chirac is looking at approval ratings of a dismal 22% and Germany's Gerhard Schroeder's party, campaigning on an anti-American platform, continues to suffer electoral defeats.

Meanwhile the Netherlands political landscape has taken a turn to the right over (justified) fears of out of control immigration. While the rest of Europe can't quite figure out what to do about its growing Muslim populations that refuse to assimilate - in some instances a blind eye is turned toward some of their primal rituals such as honor killngs. This is to say nothing of Europe's EU schizophrenia.

In other words, I don't know exactly what is going on in Europe. But perhaps, they are starting to face what they've avoided over the last 3 years or so. Namely that, as members of Western Civilization they are smack dab in the middle of a war. That the bill for maintaining huge welfare states while avoiding military spending is coming due in the form of increasing unemployment, stagnation. As well the free riding of the US military presence in Europe is coming to an end.

Convoluted politics? Identity crisis? Check out what is going on in the Netherlands, perhaps this is a representative snapshot of Europes' internal conflicts that badly need some reconciliation.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is supposed to be on the run, but, as one last spring snowstorm turned Amsterdam's lacy bridges and gabled canal houses into a confectioner's delight, she seemed to be everywhere. On television the slim, pantsuit-clad, Somali-born legislator demanded that the Dutch intelligence service investigate the honor killings of Muslim girls. In the pages of newspapers she harangued the health authorities to examine schoolgirls for evidence of genital mutilation. At prize ceremonies she warned European governments that women in their Muslim communities remain under threat.

Seven months ago, Hirsi Ali's implacable campaign against what she views as Islam's oppression of women prompted a Muslim fanatic to ritually slaughter Theo van Gogh, her Dutch collaborator on the film Submission. The murderer used his knife to affix a five-page letter to the corpse promising the same treatment for Hirsi Ali and another Dutch politician who has criticized Islam. The murder sent Dutch society into paroxysms of rage and fear, sparking dozens of attacks on mosques and schools. But it didn't seem to faze Hirsi Ali. In a series of defiant interviews, the former refugee refused to be intimidated. When a group of Muslims tried to block her from making a sequel to Submission, she fought back in court and won. Like a dark avenging angel, she seemed to loom over Holland's wintry Dutch, her ubiquitous media presence a virtual guarantee of further conflict.

...The backlash against Hirsi Ali has astonished and disappointed many Dutch feminists, who continue to count themselves among her biggest fans. Margreet Fogteloo, editor of the weekly De Groene Amsterdammer, said flatly that Mak is crazy. "People like him feel guilty because they were closing their eyes for such a long time to what was going on," she said. In what appears to be a Europe-wide pattern, some feminists are aligning themselves with the anti-immigrant right against their former multiculturalist allies on the left. Joining them in this exodus to the right are gay activists, who blame Muslim immigrants for the rising number of attacks on gay couples.

The woman who has stirred so many emotions is slight and doe-eyed, with a soft voice and small hands. Her life is itself a testament to the fluidity of Muslim politics: Today's radical feminist was once a teenage Islamist.

Read the rest.

As for EU schizophrenia, it looks like it could be the beginning of a schism between the rulers and the ruled. Via Vinod come these telling comments regarding the EU.
It was a crucial mistake to send out the entire constitution to every French voter, the architect of the EU's first constitution Val'ry Giscard d'Estaing has said in an interview.

In an interview with the New York Times, his first since the French rejection of the constitution two weeks ago, the former French president apportions most of the blame to president Jacques Chirac for failure in the referendum campaign.

One crucial mistake was to send out the entire three-part, 448-article document to every French voter, said Mr Giscard.

Over the phone he had warned Mr Chirac already in March: "I said, Don't do it, don't do it."

"It is not possible for anyone to understand the full text."

Telling comments. The problem with the EU constitution was not the constitution itself, but rather that they actually made the document that voters were voting on available to the voters. In other words, if what was actually being voted on was kept in the dark, they may have voted 'yes.'

Add to that this comment from Luxembourg PM and the current president of the EU Council. (From, seems the articles go behind pay walls awfully quick)
"Referring to the French and Dutch No, Mr Juncker said "I really believe neither the French nor the Dutch rejected the constitutional treaty", adding that "unfortunately, the electorate did not realise that the constitutional treaty was specifically aimed at meeting their concerns and that's why we need to have a period of explanation to explain this to our citizens".

Whoa! Do those sentiments drip with arrogance or what. The mentality of European politicians seems not to have changed, they still believe that Europeans want (need!) a nanny state, that the citizens require elite politicians, much smarter than themselves to make decisions for them.

As I said, the politics of Europe seem incredibly convoluted from this side of the ocean, and it has been difficult for me to wrap my brain around all of these goings on, connect the dots and come away with a single explanatory narrative. It seems to me though, that perhaps the Europeans are starting to do some self-examination, perhaps they are tired of being told what to do and how to think by bureaucrats, and perhaps they just want a little bit more say in their own fates. We can all hope.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Bad News for Fundamental Rights

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the Supreme Court's decision in Kelo v New London horrifies me. What the hell was Kennedy thinking? This is a huge blow to property rights in America. I wrote about this case back in February:

...The second question, and this is really the crux of the case, is what constitutes a 'public use.' Historically 'public use' was reserved for projects like roads, bridges, railroad tracks, schools, etc. Over time, however the definition expanded, culminating with the landmark case in 1981 of Poletown Neighborhood Council v. The City of Detroit where the government essentially took the whole town (churches and all) in order to turn the land over to General Motors for a new plant. With GM threatening to leave Detroit if the land for the new plant was not appropriated, the court essentially held that a private entity's pursuit of profit did in fact fall under the umbrella of 'public use' because that entity's profit maximizing abilities contributed to the general health of the economy as well as the government's tax base. Over the next several decades, this precedent was used to seize private property nationwide. Though it was finally struck down this past August by the Michigan Supreme Court, the real test lies in the parameters that the U.S. Supreme Court sets in Kelo vs City of New London.

The City of New London is looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to definitively widen the scope of eminent domain. If the court agrees, and 'public use' is re-defined in such a broad sense, it's hard to imagine what would not fall under the government's right of eminent domain. After all, one would only have to make the speculative argument that confiscation and redevelopment would make the public richer, by making the tax base larger. It's not too difficult to make a case that almost anything would bring in more revenue to a city than a particular private residence. Could low cost housing in a gentrifying neighborhood be forcibly confiscated and replaced with mansions? Could an Arby's be forcibly demolished to put in a 5 star restaurant if the government so desired? Is it so difficult to imagine a bribery scenario where the government threatens to replace an existing business with one that will pay more taxes? The 'public use' economic argument applies in all of these scenarios.

Apparently, 'public use' has been redefined by the Supreme Court to mean roughly "anything that might be useful to someone somewhere even at the cost of someone else." I've been trying to think of a polite articulate way to say that the Supreme Court sucks this term and I just can't come up with one. This is very very depressing and the political consequences will be far reaching. There is a lot of negative reaction, from both the left and the right, around the blogosphere.

David Bernstein articulates my thoughts on this Supreme Court pretty well:

But consider the lineup in Raich and Kelo. Then consider the legal gymnastics it takes to consider local medical pot part of "interstate commerce," and to consider taking people's home and giving them to Pfizer a "public use" in the face of two hundred years of precedent that A to B transfers are illegitimate;

Damnit! This is not the way I wanted to start my weekend, I may post more on this later. Or I might just enjoy a beverage and the sweltering 100 degree days we're going to have here in Chicago and watch the Cubs vs Sox series... then go to the gay pride parade on Sunday which is endlessly amusing. If you want more commentary, InstaPundit has a good collection of links that of course lead to more and more links.

LATER: InstaPundit posts this email he got from a reader and calls it funny:
This ruling leaves open the possibility that the City of Detroit can take away the factories of General Motors (who knows how to lose money) and award them to Toyota (who knows how to make money). Given GM's woefull book value, the factories could be had for literally a steal, and the tax revenues would be immense.

Funny because it's true, but it's also scary for the same reason.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Islamic Banking and Interest

Kind of an interesting article from the Chicago Trib's business section this week. The relevant grafs:

LONDON -- Retail banks offering interest-free mortgages and declining to charge fees for millions of customers?

That is increasingly the reality as banks around the world try to tap into the booming Islamic finance market, tailoring products for consumers who follow strict Shariah law, which forbids the giving or receiving of interest. The banks still find ways to make money through arrangements such as mortgages structured to include rental payments instead of interest, with the bank becoming the borrower's landlord.

...Lloyd's current account pays no interest and has no overdraft facility. Under the Ijarah home financing plan, the bank buys up to 90 percent of a house on behalf of a customer, who pays back an amount each month along with a rental payment as an acknowledgment that the property belongs to the bank until all payments are made.

...Amjid Ali, UK head of HSBC Amanah, agreed that education will expand the market.

"If I take myself as an example, I was born in this country, went to the mosque from the age of 5. ... It wasn't until I was 16 that I read my first translation [of the Koran] and I came across the issue of riba," he said. "At that point in my life, it wasn't the most important thing, but then later on ... I came to understand how serious an offense it is in Islam."
My first thought, is that I know who I am going to borrow money from going forward. My second thought is that this could be an opportunity to take some sizeable profits in a relatively untapped market. However, I have no idea how this kind of loan structure does not constitute 'interest' in the eyes of the Koran. Ok, lenders have changed the name from 'interest' to 'rent,' but the Koran never uses the word 'interest' to begin with, so I don't see how that is relevant at all.

I suppose the structure is slightly different from a traditional mortgage, in that banks are technically charging rent on the house that they own and are allowing the consumer to make the purchase one floor tile at a time so to speak, but for all practical purposes interest is nothing more than a rental payment on money. I have no idea how rent on items one purchases with money are less offensive than rent on money itself, but I am anything but an expert on the Koran. Genius marketing semantics though, slightly alter the ownership structure, change the name of a payment and VOILA, you are inline with the teachings of the Koran and you got yourself a whole new customer pool.

Seems a bit spurious to me, but maybe I am just jealous that I didn't think of it first.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Dick Durbin is a Big Fraud

Much has already been said about senator Dick Durbin's despicable comparison of U.S. soldiers and interrogators to governments that have together killed millions of people. I suppose this was Durbin's way of demonstrating his 'support for the troops' (but not the president). It's just too bad that the troops he chooses to support are not those of the United States. What Durbin did of course, was, in attempt to try and humiliate the administration, provide yet more propaganda and recruiting fodder for al-Qaeda (or whatever the Islamo-fascist nomenclature du jour is).

In the calculus of the left, fanning the flames of anti-US sentiments overseas is a small price to pay if there exists an opportunity of making Bush look bad, especially when the cost of such action is disproportionately paid for at the front lines, by our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he supports the troops you see, at least when it is politically expedient to do so.

Dick Durbin is my senator, and let me tell you Dick Durbin is also a partisan fraud. Just last week the Chicago Tribune ran a somewhat fawning feature story on Durbin, bragging that while he draws the ire of critics he doesn't back down. Well, I just heard his comments on the radio about an hour ago and guess what, Dick Durbin cried some crocodile tears and did back down:
WASHINGTON -- Under fire from Republicans and some fellow Democrats, Sen. Dick Durbin apologized Tuesday for comparing American interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to Nazis and other historically infamous figures.

"Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line," the Illinois Democrat said. "To them I extend my heartfelt apologies."

His voice quaking and tears welling in his eyes, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate also apologized to any soldiers who felt insulted by his remarks.

"They're the best. I never, ever intended any disrespect for them," he said.

That's Durbin-eze for (pardon the language, Durbin-eze is awful close to French): 'oh shit, I forgot that us Democrats have been getting spanked in recent elections because, outside of a couple coastal enclaves, I sound like a fucking nut to most Americans, I better say I didn't really mean it.'

Mayor Daley, a fellow Democrat and good friend of Durbin's called his remarks a "disgrace." The apology itself is what I find disgraceful and rather insulting. It reeks of "sorry if you weren't smart enough to understand what I was saying" and it seems to be mostly aimed at Bush. He should be apologizing to those troops out there who are dying because we are trying to respect human life. Listen: with the flip of a switch, we have the ability to turn the whole Middle East into glass if we want to, but instead we have chosen to try and fight as humane a war as possible, because of that, we necessarily suffer more American deaths. If Durbin's comparisons were accurate, September 12, 2001 would have seen a mushroom cloud over Kabul, Mecca, Baghdad and probably Tehran.

Here's some sound thoughts and advice for Dick Durbin:
"The attack against this dictator should come as no surprise. The record clearly shows that he has harassed American and United Nations inspectors, ordered the destruction of important documents in anticipation of inspections and hampered the ability of inspectors to carry out their mission. His defiant protection of his weapons of mass destruction cannot go unanswered. I call on those who question the motives of the president and his national security advisors to join with the rest of America in presenting a united front to our enemies abroad.
I couldn't agree more, and that statement was made by... none other than Dick Durbin himself, on December 17, 1998. In Durbin's world patriotism and presenting a "united front to our enemies" only applies when the guy in the White House has a (D) in front of his name, "defiant protection of his weapons of mass destruction" only calls for action when it is a Democratic administration that is being defied.

Dick Durbin clearly cares more about his political party than his country. What a phony.

Friday, June 17, 2005

An ID for an ID Leaves Both Men Arrested

I love this story, it is just too amusing not to link, especially on a Friday.

When a 19-year-old Schaumburg man learned this spring who apparently had stolen his identity when he was 10 years old, he wanted to teach the man a lesson, police said.

But instead of trying to have his impersonator arrested, police said Brandon Canales broke the law getting back at him.

Now both men are charged with felony identity theft, police said Wednesday.

Canales, who for years had sought information about the identity thief, somehow found a link to Carpentersville in March, police said.

Canales called up banks in Carpentersville, where Augustin Ortega-Luna, 33, who had used Canales' identity for eight years, lives, asking if they had any accounts in Canales' name, said Carpentersville Police Detective Todd Shaver.

In late March he hit pay dirt at Amcore Bank, Shaver said. Canales transferred $8,000 into his own bank account from the Amcore account set up by Ortega-Luna using the false name, Shaver said.

"The victim was trying for retribution, and I understand his frustration," Shaver said, adding that it was theft nonetheless.

Soon after the funds transfer, Ortega-Luna, of the 300 block of Charles Street, showed up at the police station--claiming to be Canales--and reported that money had disappeared from his account, Shaver said.

Ortega-Luna eventually admitted to police that he had purchased Canales' identity about eight years ago because he was in the United States illegally and used it so he could get a job, Shaver said.

Although he had not stolen money outright from Canales, Ortega-Luna amassed debts of about $208,000 for purchases that included his house, a 2005 Toyota truck and 1990 Honda car, Shaver said.

umm, isn't racking up debt of over $200,000 effectively the same as stealing? Regardless, identity theft is a freaking nightmare, as this victim knows.

Canales could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But his foster father--Ken Chrobak of Schaumburg who was interviewed Wednesday at the home where Canales lived until recently--said Canales has been plagued for years by the identity theft.

When they tried to get Canales a Social Security card about three years ago, Chrobak said, they found that--at least according to government records--the teen had been working full time since age 11.

Chrobak said Canales has had trouble getting income-tax refunds, with the IRS balking at issuing a check because his Social Security number was coming up in separate records.

Now, did you follow all of that? From what I can gather, person A (Ortega-Luna; criminal) stole the identity of person B (Canales; victim). 8 years later B (the victim) finally cracks the case and figures out that A stole his identity. So he finds the bank where A (criminal) has an account under the vicitm's name. The victim-truthfully-identifies himself as Canales. The bank says, 'right, you are Canales, you have an account here.' Canales smiles and says 'Why yes, I do, please transfer $8,000 to this other account I have, thanks.'

Or something like that.

This doesn't really seem like fraud to me on Canales' part. He never told any lies, and $8,000 is hardly restitution for the headaches he must have experienced. Hey, you steal an indentity you run the risk of the person you stole it from impersonating themselves.

However, I have to declare, Best. Vigilante. Justice. Ever.

Happy Friday ;-)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Arnold Kling-Thinking and Feeling

Arnold Kling offers some thoughts on, well quite a few things actually. Generally, he weighs in on the different thought processes employed by collectivists versus libertarians and finds that they often talk past each other. Kling also uses this to explain differences in policy outlook on the 'right to healthcare' and why libertarians love the internet. It's nothing particularly profound - if you've read any Thomas Sowell you know all about this as he has practically made the subject his life work - but it is worth emphasizing now and again. Plus anyone who mentions one of my intellectual idols, Friedrich Hayek (twice!), and in the context of the role of information automatically gets a link from me.

The first Hayek mention is Kling quoting Warren Meyer:
"in some sense the Internet and blogging are not only useful tools for us libertarians, but in and of themselves are inherently libertarian vehicles. Certainly libertarian hero F. A. Hayek would recognize the chaos of the Internet and the blogosphere immediately. For a good libertarian, chaos is beautiful, and certainly the blogosphere qualifies as chaotic. The Internet today is perhaps the single most libertarian institution on the planet. It is utterly without hierarchy, being essentially just one layer deep and a billion URL's wide. Even those who try to impose order, such as Google, do so with no mandate beyond their utility to individual users."

The role of information in an economy is a subject I touch on with some regularity on this blog, as well my senior research paper for my undergrad in economics focused on the rise of electronic markets and how they would change society. I've been meaning to dust off the project and see how many of my predictions have come to be now that 5 years have passed.

"Hayek insisted that socialism and statism were products not of economic forces beyond anyone's control but of erroneous and destructive ideas... collectivist doctrines had captured the imagination of intellectuals. In another essay, "The Intellectuals and Socialism" (1949), Hayek mapped out a broad, long-term strategy for combating this challenge...

Hayek envisioned a movement operating at the level of principles and theory and aloof from electoral and legislative agendas or the immediate controversies of political life. He proposed, in other words, a true war of ideas, one that might appeal to the best and most adventuresome minds of the age but that might take a generation or more to bear fruit."

The Internet lowers the cost of entering a dispute over ideas. Because of the lack of central authority, the Internet is more conducive to a fair contest than to an indoctrination camp. Those of us who lean toward the libertarian side are not afraid of the ideas of the collectivists, only the consequences of those ideas. The collectivists, on the other hand -- particularly those who believe in teaching people to feel rather than to think -- are threatened by ideas, even the judicious, thoughtful speculation of the President of Harvard University.

Perhaps it relates to our logical trust in free markets, but it is apparent that libertarian leaning individuals tend towards the belief that, while the blogosphere is a bit of a free for all with good and bad information. The good, the truth, will eventually bubble up to the top and push out the bad. It may not be the cleanest process, but it is the best. Just about everyone who wants one gets a vocal vote. That's far superior than having the whims of a newspaper editor, or worse a bureaucrat (dressed up as an intellectual) deciding what is good and bad.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Chopping Block

It's that time of the month where work overwhelms the time I have to blog, which means low cost blogging - which means links, links, links.

Here's an article I found on Victor Davis Hanson's site, though it was written by someone else. If you have ever wondered what a public beheading in Saudi Arabia is like, this is your article:

After noon prayer a police van holding the prisoner parked in Chop Chop Square next to the mosque. Police cars blocked off the streets and pushed the growing crowd back. The prisoner—drugged, cuffed, barefoot, manacled, and blindfolded—was led from the van by a police officer to the center of the square and made to kneel down, facing the holiest city of Islam: Mecca.

Like all expatriates in the crowd, Fred was escorted to the front by a scrawny muttawwa to ensure he wouldn't miss a thing. A minor official from the Interior Ministry read out the charges against the kneeling prisoner. The executioner—a large black man with a scimitar—approached the kneeling prisoner from behind. After the sentence was read, the executioner jabbed the prisoner in the lower back with the tip of the sword, causing the prisoner to involuntarily jerk up. When he did, the sword flashed down. At that moment the head is sliced off and sent flying across the square. Blood jets from the severed carotid arteries and jugular veins, spraying into the air like a fountain. The frenzied crowd screams in choreographed unison, "Allah Akbar"!

Allah's will is done.

That's how it's supposed to go. The beheading Fred witnessed went off a little differently.

It's chilling, but very deliberate. Give it a read.

And oh, if you were wondering what beheadings might look like, here are some very VERY graphic pictures of some of Iran's finest head hackers.

Friday, June 10, 2005

I meant to link to this the other day. James Lileks can really write when he is on, or at least writing about something that interests me more than his afternoons with his daughter. I guess that is why he never became an every day must read for me, but it looks like his new Screed Blog may become just that.

Stories like these must be told, of course, if only to show what the media finds important, and remind us how good things are going. I can imagine in late 2001 asking a question of myself in 2005:

What’s the main story? The smallpox quarantine? Fallout from the Iranian – Israeli exchange contaminating Indian crops? A series of bombings in heartland malls?

"Well, no – the big story today has to do with soldiers mishandling terrorists' holy texts at a detention center."

Mishandling? How? Like, you mean, they opened it up without first checking to see if it was ticking, and it blew up –

"No, they handled it in a way that disrespected it. Infidels are supposed to use gloves."

Oh. So we lost, then.

Don't get me wrong. I want us to do the right thing. I don't think there should be a policy that permits interrogators to treat the Qur'an like it was, oh, a Bible discovered in the Saudi airport customs line. But when it comes to the revelations of these Gitmo tales, I cannot care as much as they would like me to care. I cannot. Not to say we should treat the Qur’an with casual disrespect. But if an infidel touches the book with the wrong hand and people react like a two-year-old whose peas are touching the mashed potatoes, well, I understand why this matters, but when measured against the sins of headchoppery and carbombs, it pales to an evanescent translucence. Odd how the story isn’t about the rules and the precautions and the spine-cracking efforts to bend over backwards to make sure infidels get out the tongs when approaching the sacred book of the terrori – sorry, the detainees - Sorry, the murderous gynophobic gay-hating fundamentalist theocratic cultural imperialists. No, the story is the infinitesimal number of times in which the rules were breached over the course of years.

I suppose it is a testament to our resilience that, in just a few short years most of us are just about back to pre-9/11 comfort level - at least in terms of our everyday concerns. If you'll recall, most of us didn't believe we would even get through the holidays of 2001 without another attack at home, in fact at the time that we would get hit again seemed like the only sure thing in the world. Yet, here we are almost 4 years later with no attacks on the homeland, but an enemy still out there determined to kill thousands of Americans. And we are focused on how we handle their books. That's a dangerous kind of complacency, one that leads to Lee Harris's forgetfulness.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Hidden Costs of Criminalizing Drugs

I posited yesterday that because we lock up so many non-violent criminals for drug related crimes we necessarily parole some violent criminals to make room. It's a hidden cost of the drug war and unfortunately, right on cue, comes this from the north 'burbs:

Released from prison in October after serving about 4 years for a 2000 attack, Hanson, was charged Monday night with attempted murder and aggravated sexual assault after he allegedly attacked the 18-year-old woman earlier in the day.

"The question we're asking ourselves is: Why was this person back in the community?" [Attorney General] Madigan said. "We're trying to find out why and get to the bottom of it. We want to see if there's a problem in the system. Is there something we need to fix?"

Given his criminal history, including three previous sexual attacks on women, Hanson should have remained behind bars, Waller said.

"He clearly was identified as a risk," Waller said, noting that Hanson was 17 when he was convicted of sexual assault the first time, resulting in a 12-year prison term.

Hanson is 29 now, if he had actually served his initial sentence at least two less women would have been assaulted. But of course he was paroled, convicted again, and paroled again. Good thing they identified him as a risk.
He initially was paroled in December 2003 on the 2000 conviction, but was arrested and placed back in prison last August when he failed to report to his parole officer, officials said.

Each of the attacks, including Monday's, which took place about 12:30 p.m. near Casey Road and U.S. Highway 45, occurred near bike paths in the Libertyville area, investigators said.

....The victim in Monday's attack played dead after Hanson raped her, slashed her neck three times with a knife and dragged her into bushes, authorities said.

Hanson appeared stunned when investigators told him the woman had identified him in a photo lineup at Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, where she was treated for the knife wounds, authorities said.

"He firmly believed she was dead," Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Chief Scott Robin said. "After he was informed the victim picked him out of the lineup, he gave us a full statement as to the details of what happened."

They swear they are going to put him away for life this time. Stories like this come out almost weekly at the national level and, at least anecdotally, it seems it is always sex offenders that get paroled - and they are practically 100% repeat offenders. Why do we let them out and keep non-violent drug abusers in? Wouldn't our justice system be doing better if more money and resources were directed at keeping predators such as this behind bars? We can either build more courthouses, police stations, and prisons - which would require even more tax revenue and spending, or we can use the current resources more effectively. Decriminalizing drugs, even to a limited extent, would actually go a long way towards achieving both. But (non-prescription) drugs are so demonized by so many, we can't even have the discussion. How much money has been dumped down the black hole that is the war on drugs over the last 20 years, and more importantly what has it changed?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Supreme Court and Medical Marijuana

The Supreme Court's decision on the medical marajiauna case is rather dissapointing. Look, I pretty much support the decriminalization of all drugs. Yes ALL DRUGS, including heroin, crystal meth, coke, whatever. All of it should be legal. I know that sounds radical and you are probably imagining a society of people walking around with needles hanging out of their arms and a collective case of wicked meth mouth.

I, on the other hand, imagine a society with significantly less gun violence, shootings, gang activity and murders. I also imagine significantly less crowded prisons holding actual violent criminals. You know the kind that serially molest children that we continually parole so they can molest more children? Parole is a concept that was conceived to deal with overcrowding, because we decide to lock up a kid peddling a dime bag on a corner - a person involved in VOLUNTARY EXCHANGE - we must neccessarily release other convicted criminals to make room. Too often those are violent criminals that commit their crimes again and again. Would you feel safer in a street full of drug dealers and users or violent criminals and rapists? Perhaps neither choice is particularly appealing, but that is the trade-off we must make. A guy on the loose who would molest children is much scarier than one that might offer to sell that child a dime bag. And guess what, about 30 minutes after the police cuff and haul off the corner dealer, he's replaced by another kid and neither the drug supply or anyone's drug habits have been materially changed.

In any big city the vast majority of murders are caused by gang violence. Stray bullets, innocent bystanders, mistaken identity, and gang wars. And the gangs are fighting over drug turf, because drug turf is money. Legalize drugs would put the gangs almost out of business as they would have significantly less to fight over. Do you really think it's over colors other than green? Would you know who Al Capone was if not for prohibition?

That's my short argument for decriminalization of drugs - It would cause a reduction of crime, keep actual violent criminals in jail longer (lets keep child molesters in there for life since we have the room now) and stop ruining whole communities and countless lives that are ravaged by gangs. We might see an increase in addicts, but at least they would be imposing the costs on themselves, instead of drug dealers who impose violent costs on whole communities.

Of course my argument above is irrelevant to the Supreme Court decision on medical marijuana. The role of the judiciary is not to make rulings on policy based on good intentions or to try and cause a 'good outcome' on behalf of society. That is the role of the legislature. However, I am shaking my head as I read through the opinions of this case which is really about states rights.

Essentially the majority opinion said that this falls under the commerce clause and therefore federal law trumps state law (they did not rule medical marijuana laws unconstitutional) You see, even though the marijuana in question was grown in the woman's backyard, used by her, never sold and never left the state, the majority opinion said it was possible that this could effect interstate commerce. As Scalia wrote:

"Marijuana that is grown at home and possessed for personal use is never more than an instant from the interstate market - and this is so whether or not the possession is for medicinal use or lawful use under the laws of a particular state,"
How dissapointing that Scalia and Kennedy, with an opportunity to further decentralize Washington's power, decided to join their more liberal colleagues and roll back the federalist progress of the last decade or so. The problem with the majority's opinion is that it is so vague that it is hard to think of anything that is not an "instant from an interstate market." Perhaps my slippery slope argument is a bit fluffy, and devoid of any legal reasoning, but I still find it compelling. Our system of government is designed to favor states rights, this ruling flies in the face of that and just put a lot more power in the hands of Congress.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Anti-American Left

Next time a lefty starts carping about doom and gloom and Iraq (Vietnam!) as a quagmire, etc. Remind them of the success of Afghanistan (and Iraqi elections of course). Then when they tell you that they supported the invasion of Afghanistan all along (because ex post facto support for the Afghan war somehow adds righteousness to their opposition of toppling Saddam, don't ya know) point them to this devastating article so they can be reminded of their pathetic predictive track record.

Then rub their face in their childish preference to see America humiliated rather than people liberated.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

Bridging History

Man, I really wish I could write as beautifully as Wretchard, I found this very moving:

One of the hardest things to read over the past few days have been the Memorial Day blog posts. Some quoted the last letters of soldiers and marines recently dead in Iraq; others cast memory back further. But the events recalled in each case stood the same distance away from everyday life. It's a gulf which no words can bridge. They've left us behind; and we are irremediably alone with a tale begun long ago and whose ending is now in our care. Memory is a burden; and the memory of love the heaviest of all.
So true, enough to make tears well up in my eyes and I probably could not even articulate exactly what this means to another. But I sure know.....

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Global Warming or Heated Rhetoric?

Strange goings on in Canadian politics these days, or perhaps it has always been strange and it is just now becoming illuminated, or maybe it's just that I never had much cause to pay attention to Canadian politics? However you look at it, this is an awfully striking report on a group of Canadian scientists fighting to get their documentary aired on Canadian public television:
Then I found out what their documentary was about. The story was incredible: it documented scientists--from Canada--speaking out against the $10-billion scam known as the Kyoto Protocol.

Yes, the very same Kyoto Accord that our government has committed Canada and Canadians to support.

I understood instinctively that getting two scientists to agree at what time the sun is coming up tomorrow is--at best--difficult.

But here were tens of thousands, from around the world, all agreeing on one issue: that there is no scientific evidence of man-made global warming.

The numbers of scientists staggered me--17,100 basic and applied American scientists, two thirds with advanced degrees, are against the Kyoto Agreement. The Heidelberg Appeal--which states that there is no scientific evidence for man-made global warming, has been signed by over 4,000 scientists from around the world since the petition's inception. I strongly questioned these high numbers, since I've had benefit of the Canadian government's public relations machine on this issue. Dr. Leahey has since sent documentation to back his figures up.

All those scientists were in total agreement: the Kyoto Protocol was complete fiction.

The scientists are so committed to fighting the Kyoto Accord and its misrepresentation of the truth, that they produced a 27-minute documentary and paid for its production with their own money.

The research, the study, the organization, the production of a documentary - those efforts made up the easy part. The tough part was to get it in front of the Canadian people.

The big broadcasters had denied them "the switch" as we call it in the industry: the ability to put it on television for Canadians to see. "Not of broadcast quality," they sneered.

I met with four of the scientists. They showed me the piece. The information held in this 27-minutes should be required viewing for all Canadians. Yet here we have the national broadcasters saying "No"--refusing to broadcast scientific evidence of an important national issue.


Some of the smartest people in this country had come up against the keepers of the gates, when it comes to Canadian television. You will never hear their names, but they are the ones who pick and choose all documentaries that Canadians will get to see.

Yep, you read that right Canadian Scientists. The real reason for Kyoto's existence is because the rest of the world cannot compete with the American economy, or at least they can't do it and also hold on to their huge nanny states and social programs. Americans work too hard and are too successful, they produce more and consume more than anyone else and it isn't fair. So Kyoto is a method to drag the American economy down to European levels, all under the cloak of the noble cause of not poisoning our environment, ergo, if you oppose Kyoto, then you support poisoning the environment.

It's a nice rhetorical sleight of hand, but that's about all it is, and many nations are beginning to recognize this. As I've stated before, when it comes to fostering economic growth in developing countries, while also maintaining the ability to deal with ecological problems that are natural consequence of satisfying human demands, technology and open markets are a superior method to command and control. The Earth needs to be fed before it can be green.

Besides, we don't really know what's going on anyway. I used to make jokes to my green friends that I was against recycling because I was afraid it would cause global cooling. I was wrong. Apparently recycling and being environmentally conscious causes.... you guessed it, global warming.
Our planet's air has cleared up in the past decade or two, allowing more sunshine to reach the ground, say two studies in Science this week.

Reductions in industrial emissions in many countries, along with the use of particulate filters for car exhausts and smoke stacks, seem to have reduced the amount of dirt in the atmosphere and made the sky more transparent.

That sounds like very good news. But the researchers say that more solar energy arriving on the ground will also make the surface warmer, and this may add to the problems of global warming. More sunlight will also have knock-on effects on cloud cover, winds, rainfall and air temperature that are difficult to predict.

The results suggest that a downward trend in the amount of sunlight reaching the surface, which has been observed since measurements began in the late 1950s, is now over.

The researchers argue that this trend, commonly called 'global dimming', reversed more than a decade ago, probably following the collapse of communist economies and the consequent decrease in industrial pollutants.

Despite romanticism to the contrary, Communist nations were/are significantly worse polluters than the big evil capitalist nations. But that aside, is the above article accurate? It's pretty well sourced if you follow the link, but there are lots of persuasive studies out there that arrive at very different conclusions on the causes of global warming. That tells me that we don't really know anything and that there are thousands of variables that likely go into creating any one condition and teasing out the relative causation of each of those is damn near impossible. Given the contrarian nature of the above article, combined with the pathetic track record of the green's predictions it would be rash to completely hamstring our economy based on speculation. Even more so when that speculation rests on very short term trend spotting. The earth has been around 4 billion years, extrapolating even 200 years of data and declaring a causal trend is spurious at best. On any given day you can measure the temperature change from 6:00am to noon and conclude that, if present trends continue, you will be burnt to a crisp in another 12 hours. But we all know that is not the case, and the erroneousneus conclusion was reached with a sample size representing 25% of the whole - a significantly larger sample than could be used with regard to the earth's temperature trends.

To recap - we have two apparently credible articles linked here. One says there is no evidence of man made global warming, the other says that our recycling efforts are causing man made global warming. Both contradict each other, and both contradict the rhetorical platform of the today's green movement. It seems to me there is plenty of reasonable doubt to go around here and it would be incredibly irresponsible to affect "solutions" to problems that may or may not exist. These "solutions" would create a whole new set of problems to deal with anyway in the forms of decreases in global wealth and the stunting of developing nations. Do we really want to lock millions into poverty so we can perhaps have marginally cleaner air?

My own view, which admittedly comes from a more philosophical than scientific standpoint, is that I am more than a bit skeptical of doomsday scenarios. Mother Nature is powerful almost beyond our comprehension. Yes, we can make cars and computers, and cell phones and fly to the moon and all that, but just a typical winter snow storm - that we can see coming days in advance - can bring a bustling city to its knees. This is to say nothing of events such as earthquakes and tsunamis. It's almost a bit arrogant to presume that we mere mortals, in our relatively short time of industrialization on the planet, are materially altering the 4 billion year old beast that is nature. Drafting an environemental policy calls for skepticism and caution, fortunately cooler heads than Paul Ehrlich's have (mostly) prevailed, at least in the United States.


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