Quotulatiousness

August 19, 2014

QotD: Power corrupts, police and conservative edition

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

When this principle of “power corrupts” is the driving force behind a conservative’s approach to the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, why are so many conservatives unwilling to apply it to those who enforce many of the government’s laws? In the days since Michael Brown’s death, we’ve seen video footage of police firing teargas onto people’s private property (language warning). We’ve heard reports of police arresting journalists who were not engaging in any illegal activity. If power seems to be corrupting those charged with keeping the peace during the recent unrest in Ferguson, why do some conservatives refuse to consider the mere possibility that a police officer may have been corrupted by power in the event that sparked the unrest?

The answer is, I think, quite simple. For many conservatives, especially those of us living in nice, comfy suburbs, it’s hard to apply the “power corrupts” doctrine to law enforcement because we’ve never seen corrupted enforcers of the law. We’ve never been wrongly arrested. We’ve never witnessed our children put in jail based on the false reports of police officers. We’ve never seen our neighbors beaten or tazed without cause. And in the extremely unlikely scenario that a police officer drove into our neighborhood and murdered our unarmed friend in cold blood, we cannot possibly fathom a scenario where the justice system wouldn’t be on our side and where that police officer wouldn’t spend the rest of his life in jail. Therefore Brown must have been a violent, gang-sign flashing thug, foolish enough to think he could swipe a cop’s weapon because, in our minds, there’s no conceivable way that a police officer would gun down an innocent man.

But just because we don’t see the corruption of law enforcement in our own lives doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Police brutality is not the Bogeyman. It’s not an urban legend witnessed by none but told by many. It’s not a myth created by a primitive tribe that is too simple to understand the true source of the brokenness in its communities. Black people believe in police brutality for the same reason they believe in rain — because they’ve felt it.

Hans Fiene, “Michael Brown And The Conservative Inconsistency”, The Federalist, 2014-08-15.

August 7, 2014

Alison Redford’s political exit

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:13

Colby Cosh bids adieu to the former Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta:

What will Alison Redford’s premiership be remembered for? She summarized her own legacy in the statement she released when resigning from the Alberta Legislative Assembly Wednesday. And it is a little sad.

[...]

Can the Alberta PC dynasty survive calling the cops on one of its own leaders? Most Alberta voters, I suspect, will go over the events and revelations of the last year and think: “Are we turning into British Columbia or what?” Redford fell from power because she appeared to be foul-tempered and paranoid as well as ethically dubious, but if we are being honest, her scandals are at least as much a matter of evolving standards as they are worsening behaviour.

Under Redford, the Progressive Conservatives have gotten caught taking dozens of donations for the party war chest from municipalities, counties, learning institutions, government agencies and contractors, and the Treasury Branches. Some of this happened before Redford became Premier, which is worth remembering as the party tries to pin everything on the discarded bad apple. None of the people who engineered those kickbacks showed any awareness that they were obviously wrong or even unlawful, which tells us just how long the PCs have been doing that sort of thing. Because disclosure laws have evolved, and Google exists, we find out about it now. (Not all of Redford’s problems over expenses were ferreted out by reporters following up tips with FOI filings: some came up simply because Alberta government expense disclosure is now public, online, and frequent.)

There is a strong case that the PCs need some time on the sideline as a matter of hygiene — that, irrespective of ideology, 43 consecutive years of majority government is as unhealthy as 43 consecutive days wearing the same underwear. But it is easy to forget that Albertans have good reasons for their apparently congenital reluctance to change. The province’s resource economy has been managed, to a degree few others can boast, for the benefit of what used to be called “the working class”. The market power of skilled and unskilled industrial labour is probably as enormous, here and now, as it has been anywhere in history.

Ontarians in particular may want to put down any fragile objects and get the kids out of the room before reading the next two paragraphs…

And political power follows, if only because the trades are so large as a proportion of the populace in Alberta. If you need proof, just look at the virtually unified clamour against the federal government’s neutering of the Temporary Foreign Worker program. In Alberta, TFW is popular because it functions as a guarantee that oilpatch and construction workers will continue to enjoy cheap food, hospitality, daycare, and entertainment while their own wages skyrocket.

There is a little-noticed irony in the Canadian left’s contempt for Alberta: to a truly awesome degree, Alberta has, through managed capitalism, fulfilled the wildest dreams for industrial workers ever dreamed up by Marx and Lenin. This self-evidently has not much to do with labour unions. (What labour unions?) When Albertans talk about TFW, it is often observed that young people exiting high school here are not obligated to fill brainless service jobs, because it is so easy for them to go buy a pair of steel-toes and land a fairly enormous salary in a matter of hours. It is important that people outside Alberta understand: this is a complaint! It’s a common one!

July 17, 2014

Peer review fraud – the tip of the iceberg?

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:18

Robert Tracinski points out that the recent discovery of a “peer review and citation ring” for mere monetary gain illustrates that when much is at stake, the temptation to pervert the system can become overwhelming:

The Journal of Vibration and Control — not as titillating as it sounds; it’s an engineering journal devoted to how to control dangerous vibrations in machines and structures — just retracted 60 published papers because “a ‘peer review and citation ring’ was apparently rigging the review process to get articles published.”

The motive here is ordinary corruption. Employment and prestige in academia is usually based on the number of papers a professor has published in peer-reviewed journals. It’s a very rough gauge of whether a scientist is doing important research, and it’s the kind of criterion that appeals to administrators who don’t want to stick their noses out by using their own judgment. But it is obviously open to manipulation. In this case, a scientist in Taiwan led a ring that created fake online reviewers to lend their approval to each others’ articles and pump up their career prospects.

But if this is what happens when the motive is individual corruption, imagine how much greater the incentive is when there is also a wider ideological motive. Imagine what happens when a group of academics are promoting a scientific theory that not only advances their individual careers in the universities, but which is also a source of billions of dollars in government funding, a key claim for an entire ideological world view, an entrenched dogma for one side of the national political debate, and a quasi-religious item of faith whose advocates believe they are literally saving the world?

July 2, 2014

“Fixing” soccer games for fun and profit

Filed under: Business, Law, Soccer — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:49

Bill Barnwell discusses what we know (or what we’ve been told) about corruption in soccer matches all the way from Finland to Cameroon to the current World Cup fixtures in Brazil:

Late Monday night, FIFA’s worst nightmare began to break. The Cameroon Football Federation sent out an urgent press release announcing that they were investigating claims that several of Cameroon’s recent matches were fixed, most notably the country’s 4-0 loss to Croatia during the group stage of the World Cup. The allegations come from a story in German newspaper Der Spiegel, which reported that notable alleged Singaporean match fixer Wilson Raj Perumal told the paper in a pre-match Facebook chat that the African side would have a player sent off in the first half before losing 4-0. Both would later occur in the match. Perumal further alleged that the Cameroon team had “seven bad apples” and has been involved, to some extent, with fixing all three of its group stage matches before exiting the tournament.

Perumal has since issued a statement, via the co-authors of his biography, denying that he predicted the result.

Of course, allegations of fixed soccer matches aren’t anything new. What makes this so shocking and so meaningful is the idea that a World Cup match was fixed. It’s one thing for some third-division match under a rock in front of 40 people to be rigged. If a World Cup match can be manipulated with the globe watching, though, is there any match that can’t be fixed?

[...]

Perumal and an associate eventually found their way to Scandinavia, where they would fix matches at a number of clubs in Finland. Most notably, Perumal offered to invest more than a million Euros in struggling Finnish side Tampere United if they allowed him to invite several awful players from outside the country on the take to come play for the club. They took about half of the money and didn’t bother to play the players Perumal brought on; they’re also now banned from Finnish soccer. For some of his fixes, Perumal was actually able to issue instructions during matches to players on the pitch from the team bench.

Perumal suggests that he didn’t need influence over much of a team to fix a match, preferring to focus on the defense. “I prefer back-line players: the two central defenders, the last man stopper and the goalkeeper. If you can get three back-line players on your payroll then you can execute a fix because, when you want to lose, the attackers can’t help you,” he wrote.

[...]

As for Cameroon, well, it’s hard to say what will become of them. If there are seven players on the team who are proven to have fixed matches at the World Cup, their punishment will be severe, with permanent banishment from the sport a likely option. I’ll be intrigued to see what the investigation reveals, even if I’m very skeptical that an investigation conducted by the Cameroon FA and FIFA will be very thorough. They have little to gain from revealing their own corruption. I don’t know that Cameroon necessarily manipulated results during this World Cup, but I would be surprised if the entire tournament actually went untouched by match fixers. There’s simply too much to be gained and too little to stop it from occurring.

June 30, 2014

QotD: The new American ruling class

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Our political bureaucracies are grasping and vicious, and some of the larger of them are dominated by people who are, if we’re being frank, not especially bright. No society can long thrive by making its creators and innovators subservient to its pimps and thieves. But agencies with the power to tax or the power to pay themselves out of taxes have the power to command, and, human nature being what it is, it is not surprising that their executives use that power to extort for themselves extraordinary levels of compensation (occasionally through criminal means, as in the Bell case), even as they bore us all to death talking about the sacrifices they have endured on behalf of their careers in “public service.” [...]

It is baffling that my progressive friends lament the influence of so-called big money on government while at the same time proposing to expand the very scope and scale of that government that makes influencing it such a good investment. Where government means constables, soldiers, judges, and precious little else, it is not much worth capturing. Where government means somebody whose permission must be sought before you can even begin to earn a living, when it determines the prices of products, the terms of competition, and the interest rates on your competitors’ financing, then it is worth capturing. That much is obvious. Progressives refuse to see the inherent corruption in the new ruling class — and, make no mistake, we now have a ruling class — because it is largely made up of them, their colleagues, and people who are socially and culturally like them and their colleagues. Getting a couple hundred grand a year to teach one class doesn’t look so crazy if you think you might be the guy who gets the check next time around. You can be an anti-elite crusader on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised from your million-dollar mansion, even if you never find yourself so much as downwind from a poor person, without fearing charges of hypocrisy: Ask Senator Warren. Of course Chelsea Clinton does not have the sense or the good taste to be embarrassed when talking about her blasé attitude toward money: Money is invisible to her for the same reason that water is invisible to a fish — she’d notice it if it weren’t there, and flap like a desperate landed mackerel until she’d secured her next big payday.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Politics Pays”, National Review, 2014-06-29.

June 24, 2014

“How should we do x?”

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:11

The urge to provide a national (or even a global) solution to a given problem is almost always mistaken. Kevin Williamson explains why:

“How should we do x?” The main problem is not the answer, but the question itself, and the assumptions behind that question, the belief that an answer exists.

Some policies must, by their nature, be implemented at the national level. If you’re going to have a sovereign nation-state, you need a national defense apparatus (which is not to say you need our national-defense apparatus; there are alternatives), and you probably need a national immigration policy, etc. The basic architecture of the current American constitutional order, which is a remarkably wise and intelligent piece of work, contemplates national policies in those areas in which the several states interact with foreign powers and in those cases in which the states cannot coordinate efforts or resolve disputes among themselves on their own. That, along with some 18th-century anachronisms (post roads, etc.) and some awful economic superstitions (political management of trade, a political monopoly on the issuance of currency), constitutes most of what the federal government is in theory there to do. That and fighting pirates and others committing “felonies on the high seas,” of course, which is awesome, and we can all feel patriotic about fighting pirates.

But … if we look at federal programs by budget share, almost nothing that Washington does requires a national policy. There’s national defense, of course, at around 20 percent of spending; you may believe, as I do, that that number is probably too high, but national defense is a legitimate national endeavor. But most federal spending is on various entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and various other welfare benefits. There is not much reason for any of these programs to exist at all — government is a criminally inept pension planner and a thoroughly incompetent insurance company — and there is very little reason for any of them to exist as uniform, one-size-fits-all national programs. Start digging into that non-defense discretionary spending and you end up with very little more than a catalog of crony payoffs and political favoritism.

There is no more reason to believe that a single government-run pension scheme is in each individual’s best interest than to believe that a single city or single model of car is right for everybody. And the people who design and plan these programs know that. The point of Social Security — like the point of insisting that health insurance is “a right” rather than a consumer good — is to redefine the relationship between citizen and state. That is the real rationale for a national pension scheme or a national insurance policy. For several generations now, we’ve been changing the very idea of what it means to be an American citizen. It used to mean being entitled to enjoy liberty and republican self-governance under the Constitution. Eventually, it came to mean being eligible for Social Security, functionally if not formally. Now it means being eligible for Obamacare. The name of the project may change every generation, and its totems may evolve from Bismarck to Marx to “the experts” — that legion of pointy-headed Caesars who are to be the final authority in all matters in dispute — but the dream remains the same: society as one big factory under the management of enlightened men with extraordinary powers of compulsion.

June 16, 2014

FIFA and the World Cup

Filed under: Americas, Bureaucracy, Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:29

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

May 31, 2014

Scott Feschuk: “How murdered might you get at the World Cup?”

Filed under: Americas, Humour, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:10

Worried about your personal safety at the World Cup in Brazil? Scott Feschuk helps you to be as worried as you should be:

Has there been much corruption?

Define “much.” If you mean scattered incidents of price gouging to line the pockets of a few local firms and politicians, then yes. But if you mean a grandly orchestrated, systemic pilfering of hundreds of millions of dollars, then yes. Brazilian soccer legend Pelé describes it as a “disgrace.” (By the way, it is mandatory that Pelé be quoted in every World Cup article, no matter the topic: RAIN COMING WEDNESDAY ACCORDING TO ‘FEELING IN KNEE,’ LEGEND DECLARES.)

[...]

If I go to the World Cup, how murdered will I get?

British papers have been playing up the threat of violent crime, depicting the cities of Brazil as crime-infested hellscapes through which there is scant hope of safe passage. The way they tell it, Rio is like Gotham before Batman or Times Square before Applebee’s.

So concern is overblown?

Oh God, no. But listen: the people of Brazil are well aware of your fears. To their credit, they’ve taken substantive action to address the issue by, um, well … they published a brochure.

What — a guide on how to react when you’re mugged at gunpoint, haha?

Yep. Brazilians have a lot of interesting traditions. They speak directly. They touch one another lightly while talking. And their criminals like to kill people who make a fuss over getting robbed. They even have a word for a mugging that escalates into a murder: latrocinios. You know people are serious about something when they have a word or phrase for it. Just ask the people at McDonald’s about Kirstie Alley and second breakfast.

What does the brochure recommend?

Remain calm. Do your best not to cry out. If you stay largely motionless and don’t say a word, it will be over soon enough. Pretty much the same guidelines to follow when losing your virginity.

May 22, 2014

The Ukrainian army and corruption

Filed under: Government, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:48

At Defense One, Sarah Chayes says that the pitiful state of the Ukraine’s armed forces is a case study in how corruption can hollow out a nation’s defences:

Here’s a contrast that sums up the David and Goliath aspect of the Ukraine crisis. Picture the sleek, white-hulled vessel Vladivostok, one of two Mistral class warships France is selling to Russia, and compare the bedraggled tents some Ukrainian soldiers sleep in with donations of food jumbled outside and rain-soaked blankets drying over a brushwood fire.

The Russian behemoth outmatches its smaller and weaker neighbor, intrinsically. But the gap did not have to be so stark. Nor did the task of confronting irregular separatist militias have to be so hard. At fault is what drove the Maidan protesters to the streets in the first place: corruption. Ukraine is a case study in one of the ways corruption threatens international security: it guts armies. It makes them useless for defending their borders and as allies. United States officials in their rush to aid the Ukrainian military should resist the temptation to turn a blind eye to lingering venality. Ukraine’s future depends on some tough love.

“A modern country cannot exist without a modern army,” Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Petro Mehed said at a press conference last month announcing a major military overhaul. “In recent years, [the Ukrainian] army has been systematically destroyed and disarmed, and its best personnel dismissed.”

In a 2012 analysis Leonid Polyakov, another senior defense official, detailed the corrupt workings with remarkable candor. Chronic underfunding “enhanced the role of the human factor” in choosing among operational priorities. Ostensibly outdated equipment was sold “at unreasonably understated prices” in return for kickbacks. Officers even auctioned off defense ministry land. Gradually, Kyiv began requiring the military to cover more of its own costs, forcing senior officers into business, “which is…inconsistent with the armed forces’ mission,” and opened multiple avenues for corruption. Commanders took to “using military equipment, infrastructure, and…personnel [to] build private houses, [or] make repairs in their apartments.” Procurement fraud was rife, as were bribes to get into and through military academies, and for desirable assignments.

H/T to Tony Prudori for the link.

April 2, 2014

Comparing scandals – Toyota’s phantom acceleration and GM’s ignition switches

Filed under: Business, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:10

David Harsanyi offers this comparison and says it’s another reason governments shouldn’t own businesses:

In February 2010, the Obama Administration’s Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told America, without a shred of evidence, that Toyota automobiles were dangerous to drive. LaHood offered the remarks in front of the House Appropriations subcommittee that was investigating reports of unintended-acceleration crashes. “My advice is, if anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it,” he said, sending the company’s stock into a nosedive.

Even at the time, LaHood’s comments were reckless at best. Assailing the competition reeks of political opportunism and cronyism. It also illustrates one of the unavoidable predicaments of the state owning a corporation in a competitive marketplace. And when we put LaHood’s comment into perspective today, it’s actually a lot worse. Not only did the Obama administration have the power and ideological motive to damage the largely non-unionized competition, it was busy propping up a company that was causing preventable deaths.

[...]

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s acting chief David Friedman testified that GM never told them that faulty switches were at the root of the airbag problem. Fine. Before plowing billions of tax dollars into saving the United Automobile Workers, did the Car Czar or any other Obama officials take extra care to review DOT records to insure that taxpayers would not be funding the preventable deaths of American citizens? Would DOT or Holder exhibit the same zealousness for safety when it came to GM as they did when it came to Toyota? In the midst of the bailout debate and subsequent “turnaround,” news of a coverup and major recall would have been a political disaster.

So it’s difficult to understand why this isn’t a huge scandal. If every obtuse utterance by an obscure Republican congressman gets the media juices flowing, surely the possibility of this kind of negligence is worth a look. Can anyone with access to the administration ask some of these questions? Because if you take credit for “saving” a company (actually, an “industry,” as no one would ever driven again if Obama hadn’t saved the day) you also get credit for “saving” the real-life unscrupulous version of the company. “I placed my bet on American workers,” Obama told union workers in 2012. “And I’d make that same bet again any day of the week. And now, three years later that bet is paying off.” Betting $80 billion of someone else’s money to prop up sympathetic labor unions isn’t exactly fraught with political risk. Unless it turns out that your administration was less concerned about the safety defects of the company you owned than the company you disliked. That would be corruption.

February 17, 2014

The dirty not-so-secret about Olympic venues

Filed under: Sports — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:44

Every time somebody suggests that Toronto be seriously involved in an Olympic bid, I become a big supporter of the other competing cities. Toronto is dysfunctional enough without adding the cost, disruption, and anti-democratic central planning aspects of hosting the Olympic games. In Samizdata, Michael Jennings looks at the shenanigans going on both in Sochi with the current Winter Games and in future venues:

The 2018 Winter Olympics are in Pyeongchang county in South Korea. Assuming that North Korea does not collapse or try to start a war between now and then, this will be straightforward, as these things go. A vast amount of money has been spent building new world class ski resorts at Alpensia and Yongpyong. These have largely been built already. They were built in anticipation of Pyeongchang winning the Winter Olympics. Pyeongchang also made unsuccessful bids for the games of 2006 and 2010, and has therefore been building for some time. There are already large financial black holes from the construction of these venues, but one cost overruns will be anywhere near as bad as have come from the highly corrupt race to get things built on time that took place prior to Sochi. Plus there have been and will be time for lots of test events to get the venues right. Of course, there are still highly expensive new highways and railways to be built, and a lot of indoor venues to be built for the ice events in the coastal city of Gangneung. As national pride is at stake, South Korean taxpayers will undoubtedly suffer painfully, but South Korea is a rich industrial democracy with competent people in charge. These games will likely go smoothly, but they will cost a lot — just not as much as Sochi.

The venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics has not yet been decided, but the IOC announced last year there were six final bidders: Stockholm (Åre), Sweden; Oslo, Norway; Krakow, Poland (Zakopane, Poland and Jasná, Slovakia); Almaty, Kazakhstan; Lviv, Ukraine; and Beijing (Zhangjiakou), China. [It has always been the case that the indoor ice events would be held in a city and the outdoor snow events in a mountain resort. In recent times the need for the city to be close to the resort has been relaxed somewhat, and I have listed the mountain resort(s) in brackets if it is a long way away from the official host city].

Sweden has already withdrawn their bid, and Norway appears to be close to doing so. The reason: they are seeing the immense expense and horrible shenanigans going on in Sochi. A little secret of the Olympics is that many of the the same people run it every time — the host city largely just picks up the bill. Once the event has ridiculous expenses and large amounts of outright corruption attached to it, this all comes with it to the next venue. Receiving kickbacks on construction projects becomes what it is all about.

Relatively uncorrupt places like Norway and Sweden look at this, and find that they want nothing to do with it. As great centres of winter sport, they have many of the right facilities already, meaning less scope for construction industry kickbacks. This means that for some of the IOC the fact that a country is already prepared for the Games is actually a negative rather than a positive.

Anyway, though, the point is that the two countries best able to host the games end up not being serious candidates.

As for the others: Poland and Slovakia would run the games just fine, but a fair bit of infrastructure and facilities would need to be built. Krakow is a lovely city. Zakopane is a lovely resort, and the Tata mountains are a suitable place for the games, even if the best downhill resorts are on the Slovakian side rather than the Polish side. (Some of the infrastructure construction would not be too counterproductive: Poland built lots of new roads, railways stations and airport terminals before the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, most of which were needed anyway and were part of Poland’s long term post-communist infrastructure modernisation). The Olympic games are not what money should be spent on in the present economic circumstances, though, and one also hopes that the richer countries of the EU are past paying for the Olympics to be held in the poorer countries of the EU (see Athens 2004). But with the EU, who knows?

February 3, 2014

Corruption in the EU

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Europe, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:46

BBC News discusses a recent EU report on bribery and corruption in Europe:

The extent of corruption in Europe is “breathtaking” and it costs the EU economy at least 120bn euros (£99bn) annually, the European Commission says.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem has presented a full report on the problem.

She said the true cost of corruption was “probably much higher” than 120bn.

Three-quarters of Europeans surveyed for the Commission study said that corruption was widespread, and more than half said the level had increased.

Interestingly, the perception of corruption is significantly higher than the (self-reported) incidence:

In the UK only five people out of 1,115 — less than 1% — said they had been expected to pay a bribe. It was “the best result in all Europe”, the report said.

But 64% of British respondents said they believed corruption to be widespread in the UK, while the EU average was 74% on that question.

In some countries there was a relatively high number reporting personal experience of bribery,

In Croatia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, between 6% and 29% of respondents said they had been asked for a bribe, or had been expected to pay one, in the past 12 months.

There were also high levels of bribery in Poland (15%), Slovakia (14%) and Hungary (13%), where the most prevalent instances were in healthcare.

Ms Malmstroem said corruption was eroding trust in democracy and draining resources from the legal economy.

November 16, 2013

QotD: Petronius was right

Filed under: History, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:57

Sometime in the mid-first century a.d., an otherwise little known consular official, Gaius Petronius, wrote a brilliant satirical novel about the gross and pretentious new Roman-imperial elite. The Satyricon is an often-cruel parody about how the Roman agrarian republic of old had degenerated into a wealth-obsessed, empty society of wannabe new elites, flush with money, and both obsessed with and bored with sex. Most of the Satyricon is lost. But in its longest surviving chapter — “Dinner with Trimalchio” — Petronius might as well have been describing our own 21st-century nomenklatura.

[...]

Another farce in the Satyricon involves the nonchalant ignorance of Trimalchio and his guests. The wannabes equate influence and money with status and learning and so pontificate about current events, with made-up mythologies and half-educated references to history. When Trimalchio and his banqueters begin to sermonize on literature, almost everything that follows turns out to be wrong — as Petronius reminds us how high learning has become as inane a commodity as food or sex, and only sort of half consumed, rather like the 2008 campaign of faux Greek columns and Vero possumus, which were supposed to convey gravitas.

Likewise, in our version, what does a $200,000 Ivy League education or a graduate degree really get you any more? In the sophisticated world of our political and highly credentialed elites, there are 57 states. Atlantic Coast cities are said to lie along the Gulf of Mexico; after all, they are down there somewhere in the South. The Malvinas become the Maldives — Ma- with an s at the end seems close enough. Corps-men serve in the military (as zombies?). Medgar Evans was a civil-rights icon, but you know whom we mean. President Roosevelt addressed the nation on television after the stock-market crash in 1929 — well, he would have, had he been president then and if only Americans had had televisions in their homes. And how are we to know that what we read from celebrity authors is not just made up or plagiarized, whether a Maureen Dowd column or a Doris Kearns Goodwin book?

The famously nouveau-riche Trimalchio’s guests drop the names of the rich and powerful, mostly to remind one another that they are now among the plutocracy that is replacing the old bankrupt aristocracy. We too are seeing something like that metamorphosis. It is hard to guess on any given summer weekend which populist progressive family — the Obamas, the Clintons, the Kerrys, the Gores — will be ensconced on what particular Hamptons, Nantucket, or Martha’s Vineyard beach, rubbing shoulders with just the sort of Silicon Valley or Wall Street new zillionaires who during work hours are supposed to be the evil “1 percent” and “fat cats” who need to be forced to pay their “fair share.”

Victor Davis Hanson, “An American Satyricon”, National Review Online, 2013-08-27

November 12, 2013

Corruption watch: US government edition

Filed under: Government, Law — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:10

In his weekly NFL column, Gregg Easterbrook frequently has extended discussions of non-football items like this week’s quick tour of recent US federal, state, and local government agencies’ corruption news:

This column contends that corruption in government is a larger problem than commonly understood — that a reason expenditures at the federal, state and local levels keep smashing records, yet schools and bridges don’t get built, is that a significant fraction of what government spends is not just wasted, it is stolen.

Last week’s news that two senior admirals have been placed on leave on suspicion of corruption, while two Navy commanders and a senior official of the actual NCIS, not the TV show, have been arrested and charged with corruption, might be just the tip of an iceberg, to employ a nautical metaphor. Here’s a quick tour of recent corruption charges:

In federal government, a top EPA official stole nearly $900,000 from the agency, including through his expense account and by not reporting to work for months at a time yet receiving full pay. Absurdly, he was believed at the EPA when he claimed to be on assignment for the CIA. If the CIA needed an environmental specialist, there is a system by which one would be “detailed,” and the EPA would know.

Recently, an Army contractor was sentenced to 20 years in prison for stealing about $30 million using false invoices. Former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. recently was sentenced to prison for embezzling from campaign funds; his wife was sentenced for income-tax evasion. (The campaign embezzlement did not cost taxpayers anything, the tax evasion did.)

In state government, the Securities Exchange Commission has accused the state of Illinois of pension bond fraud. The S.E.C. has charged the former head of the California state pension fund with fraud. Members of the New York Senate have been arrested on bribery charges. The lieutenant governor of Florida resigned over involvement with a fake charity.

In local government, the former mayor of Detroit just went to prison for corruption. Several members of the Washington, D.C., city council have been jailed or indicted for corruption, including one in jail for stealing from a youth-sports fund. A former California mayor just pleaded no contest to corruption charges. A former Chicago alderman just pleaded guilty in a corruption case. Chicago might be “the most corrupt city in the country,” with kickbacks and embezzlement costing Chicago taxpayers $500 million per year, a rate that works to $185 annually stolen from each resident.

[...]

In a big, complicated world, there will always be some who steal. Most public officials are honest and work hard to administer public funds properly. But we tend to think of theft in government as a problem of bygone days of bosses in smoke-filled rooms. With evermore money flowing into government, evermore corruption might be one result.

October 24, 2013

Balancing the scales of justice

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:45

Do you remember the name Annie Dookhan? She shows up in a post called “If you’re not getting enough convictions on drug charges, tamper with the evidence at the lab“. Her case came to court recently and she was sentenced to a three-year prison term. At Popehat, Clark does a bit of math to determine whether the scales of justice are in balance here:

Before she was caught Dookhan lied about 34,000 samples.

Over 4,000 cases were tainted with her corrupt evidence.

Over 1,100 people were jailed in cases where Dookhan was the primary or secondary chemist finding them “guilty” of drug crimes.

Without knowing the exact durations of their sentences, we can’t know how many person-years of confinement Dookhan was responsible for, but taking two years as a conservative guess per person, she was responsible for 2,200 person years of confinement.

Without knowing the exact torture and abuse these 1,100 men and women underwent, we can’t know exactly how much rape and degredation Dookhan was responsible for, but given that we do know that most rape victims in the US are men, specifically men in the custody and “protection” of the State, and looking at the multiple studies that show that 9-20% of inmates are raped, we can guess that Dookhan was responsible for over 100 men and women being raped. To hand-wave further, we can guess than because “once a punk, always a punk” in the prisoner’s code, she is responsible for thousands of actual rapes.

To recap:

Ariel Castro:

  • crime: 3 prisoners, 30 person years, hundreds of rapes.
  • sentence: life plus 1,000 years.

Annie Dookhan:

  • crime: 1,100+ prisoners, 2,200+ person years, thousands of rapes.
  • sentence: three years,
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