Quotulatiousness

July 22, 2017

Civil asset forfeiture is “an unconstitutional abuse of government power”

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At the Hit & Run blog, Damon Root reports on at least one US Supreme Court justice’s strong views on civil asset forfeiture:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this week that the Justice Department will increase the use of civil asset forfeiture, the practice that allows law enforcement officials to seize property from persons who have been neither charged with nor convicted of any crime. “Civil asset forfeiture is a key tool,” Sessions declared. “President Trump has directed this Department of Justice to reduce crime in this country, and we will use every lawful tool that we have to do that.”

But civil asset forfeiture is not a “lawful tool.” It is an unconstitutional abuse of government power. The Fifth Amendment forbids the government from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Civil asset forfeiture turns that venerable principle on its head, allowing government agents to take what they want without the bother of bringing charges, presenting clear and convincing evidence, and obtaining a conviction in a court of law. It is the antithesis of due process.

By ordering the expansion of this unconstitutional practice, Sessions has placed himself on a collision course with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. As Thomas recently explained in a statement respecting the denial of certiorari in the case of Leonard v. Texas, not only has civil asset forfeiture “led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses” by law enforcement agencies around the country, but the practice is fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution.

As I described Sessions’ attitude in a post on Gab: “Asset forfeiture now, asset forfeiture tomorrow, asset forfeiture forever!” http://minx.cc:1080/?post=370736. The victims of asset forfeiture tend not to be the druglords or property tycoons … the majority are relatively poor and the asset being taken from them is often their primary financial possession. Druglords and tycoons can easily afford high-powered lawyers … poor people whose life savings have just been seized have no recourse at all in most states. As Senator Rand Paul said: “People who are victims of civil forfeiture are often poor, African American or Hispanic, and people who can’t afford an attorney to try to get the money that’s taken from them by the government”.

Megan McArdle points out that “civil asset forfeiture is […] almost the literal embodiment of that hoary old socialist proverb: ‘Property is theft’:”

Now, this may not seem unreasonable to you. Why should criminals be allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains? And fair enough, except for one small thing: They can take your stuff without charging or convicting you.

Law enforcement agencies have often been able to keep the seized assets for their own use, which has given them a keen interest in generating new civil asset forfeiture cases. As Justice Clarence Thomas remarked, while rebuking his colleagues for failing to hear a case on this topic, “this system — where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use — has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.” (And indeed, abuse is rampant.)

Because of those well-chronicled abuses, the Obama administration in 2015 ended what was known as the Equitable Sharing program, which allowed local law enforcement to seize assets and then transfer them to the federal government, with the federal government passing back part of the proceeds to the local department. This proved an excellent way to get around state laws, including those intended to funnel seized assets into state coffers. The Obama administration very sensibly decided that it didn’t want to help law enforcement become a sort of freelance tax authority, and shut this practice down.

Now Sessions has revived it. “How is this conservative?” demanded an earnest liberal of my acquaintance. And all I could reply was that that is a very good question.

July 12, 2017

Someone at the NRA finally speaks out on the shooting death of Philando Castile

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Radley Balko on the problems the NRA creates for itself by its reflexive support of the police, which weakens its efforts on upholding gun rights for ordinary Americans:

At long last, someone from the National Rifle Association has spoken up about Philando Castile. Sort of. During a CNN segment, NRA spokeswoman and pundit Dana Loesch said this:

    I think it’s absolutely awful. It’s a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided. I don’t agree with every single decision that comes out from courtrooms of America. There are a lot of variables in this particular case, and there were a lot of things that I wish would have been done differently. Do I believe that Philando Castile deserved to lose his life over his [traffic] stop? I absolutely do not. I also think that this is why we have things like NRA Carry Guard, not only to reach out to the citizens to go over what to do during stops like this, but also to work with law enforcement so that they understand what citizens are experiencing when they go through stops like this.

As Jacob Sullum points out at Reason, this is pretty weak stuff. A law-abiding gun owner was shot and killed by a cop after doing everything he was supposed to do. It then took more than a year for anyone from the nation’s largest gun rights organization to comment, and when she did, she offered a vague, heavily qualified, quasi-criticism of the cop while implying not only that Castile contributed to his death but also that he might be alive if only he were carrying an NRA Carry Guard card.

This is about par for the course for the NRA. This is the group that claims to be the only thing preventing the government from obliterating the Second Amendment, yet they’re noticeably quiet about the people doing the most violence to the Second Amendment — the armed, badge-wearing government employees we call law enforcement officers. For all the NRA’s dire warnings about government gun confiscation, the real, tangible threat to gun-owning Americans today comes not from gun-grabbing bureaucrats but from door-bashing law enforcement officers who think they’re at war — who are too often trained to view the people they serve not as citizens with rights but as potential threats. Here, the NRA just doesn’t want to get involved.

[…]

In short, the NRA seems to think we’re at risk of creeping tyranny and abuse of power from all sectors of government except from the men and women armed, badged and entrusted with the power to kill. That’s a problem, because if armed agents who enforce the laws on the ground aren’t required to respect our rights, our rights don’t really exist.

The Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way on the Castle Doctrine for the next 25 years, but if the police continue to kick down doors with impunity, law-abiding gun owners will be at risk, and the Second Amendment will be more of an empty gesture than a constitutional protection. The Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way on conceal carry for the next 25 years, but if the organization keeps pushing the line that cops are at war, that the populace is dangerous, and that every citizen is a possible threat, the right to carry a gun in public will always be constrained by cops conditioned to see every weapon as a threat to their existence.

Finally, the Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way and abolish all the state laws like those that ensnared Shaneen Allen, but as long as the NRA and its allies push rhetoric that makes white people (and white cops) see all crime with a black face, the right to bear arms for people who look like her — or who look like Philando Castile — exist only in theory.

July 8, 2017

Demonizing the Koch brothers

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Julian Adorney on the amazing contrast between the way the Koch brothers actually spend their money and the demonic sins they are regularly accused of by progressives:

The Koch Brothers recently announced a $21 million anti-poverty program in Dallas, designed to reduce gang violence and encourage young entrepreneurs. But their efforts to end poverty are unlikely to earn credit from progressives, who frequently demonize the family. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid routinely blasts them for, “crooked works” and “nefarious actions”; and when Charles and David Koch donated $100 million to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, leftists demanded (unsuccessfully) that the hospital return the gift.

Why are the Kochs so often criticized by the left, while far less progressive individuals are given a free pass?

Unlikely Alliances

The Koch brothers have spent at least $1.5 billion working to advance traditionally progressive causes. They have funded public television, museums, and hospitals. They contributed $25 million to the United Negro College Fund, the nation’s largest minority education group. The donation offers scholarships and support for historically black universities.

Politically, the Kochs have pushed for criminal justice reform. The brothers worked with Van Jones on his Cut50 project, which aims to cut America’s incarcerated population in half over the next ten years. The Kochs have partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for American Progress to reduce prison populations and enact more humane criminal sentencing. And in 2011, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers gave Charles Koch its annual Defender of Justice award.

But criminal justice reform is far from the only progressive cause the Kochs have embraced. They publicly oppose corporate tax breaks and subsidies — including the ethanol subsidies that boost their bottom line.

In spite of this, many progressives disdain the Kochs as far-right extremists. On his Senate website, Bernie Sanders claims that the goal of these, “right wing billionaires” is to, “repeal every major piece of legislation … that has protected the middle class, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the most vulnerable in this country.” The Koch’s high-profile efforts to help the most vulnerable population in the nation, those victimized by the criminal justice system, receives no mention.

[…]

Progressives vilify the Kochs for the same reason that many venerate FDR: politics encourages black and white formulations. Prominent Democrats lambast the Kochs as ill-intentioned billionaires, and the specter of the Kochs has played heavily in Democratic fundraising attempts. Fear motivates, and boogeymen inspire fiercer opposition than the complicated reality of the Koch brothers.

Similarly, Democrats may turn a blind eye to FDR’s anti-progressive actions because they don’t wish to tarnish one of their own. FDR’s economic policies owe much to fascism: Roosevelt admitted that he was, “deeply impressed by what [Mussolini] has accomplished.” Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration stated it more directly: “The Fascist Principles are very similar to those we have been evolving here in America.”

This similarity is easy to brush off if FDR is perceived as a leftists titan, because in the public eye progressives and fascists are diametrically opposed. It is harder to ignore when one accepts that FDR’s record on human rights was only a few degrees better than Mussolini’s.

July 5, 2017

QotD: Mussolini’s crimes

On the face of it, Mussolini’s collapse was a story straight out of Victorian melodrama. At long last Righteousness had triumphed, the wicked man was discomfited, the mills of God were doing their stuff. On second thoughts, however, this moral tale is less simple and less edifying. To begin with, what crime, if any, has Mussolini committed? In power politics there are no crimes, because there are no laws. And, on the other hand, is there any feature in Mussolini’s internal régime that could be seriously objected to by any body of people likely to sit in judgement on him? For, as the author of this book (The Trial of Mussolini by ‘Cassius’) abundantly shows — and this in fact is the main purpose of the book — there is not one scoundrelism committed by Mussolini between 1922 and 1940 that has not been lauded to the skies by the very people who are now promising to bring him to trial.

For the purposes of his allegory ‘Cassius’ imagines Mussolini indicted before a British court, with the Attorney General as prosecutor. The list of charges is an impressive one, and the main facts — from the murder of Matteotti to the invasion of Greece, and from the destruction of the peasants’ co-operatives to the bombing of Addis Ababa — are not denied. Concentration camps, broken treaties, rubber truncheons, castor oil — everything is admitted. The only troublesome question is: How can something that was praiseworthy at the time when you did it — ten years ago, say — suddenly become reprehensible now? Mussolini is allowed to call witnesses, both living and dead, and to show by their own printed words that from the very first the responsible leaders of British opinion have encouraged him in everything that he did. For instance, here is Lord Rothermere in 1928:

    In his own country (Mussolini) was the antidote to a deadly poison. For the rest of Europe he has been a tonic which has done to all incalculable good. I can claim with sincere satisfaction to have been the first man in a position of public influence to put Mussolini’s splendid achievement in its right light. … He is the greatest figure of our age.

Here is Winston Churchill in 1927:

    If I had been an Italian I am sure I should have been whole-heartedly with you in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism… (Italy) has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism.

Here is Lord Mottistone in 1935:

    I did not oppose (the Italian action in Abyssinia). I wanted to dispel the ridiculous illusion that it was a nice thing to sympathize with the underdog. … I said it was a wicked thing to send arms or connive to send arms to these cruel, brutal Abyssinians and still to deny them to others who are playing an honourable part.

Here is Mr Duff Cooper in 1938:

    Concerning the Abyssinian episode, the less said now the better. When old friends are reconciled after a quarrel, it is always dangerous for them to discuss its original causes.

Here is Mr Ward Price, of the Daily Mail, in 1932:

    Ignorant and prejudiced people talk of Italian affairs as if that nation were subject to some tyranny which it would willingly throw off. With that rather morbid commiseration for fanatical minorities which is the rule with certain imperfectly informed sections of British public opinion, this country long shut its eyes to the magnificent work that the Fascist régime was doing. I have several times heard Mussolini himself express his gratitude to the Daily Mail as having been the first British newspaper to put his aims fairly before the world.

And so on, and so on. Hoare, Simon, Halifax, Neville Chamberlain, Austen Chamberlain, Hore-Belisha, Amery, Lord Lloyd and various others enter the witness-box, all of them ready to testify that, whether Mussolini was crushing the Italian trade unions, non-intervening in Spain, pouring mustard gas on the Abyssinians, throwing Arabs out of aeroplanes or building up a navy for use against Britain, the British Government and its official spokesmen supported him through thick and thin. We are shown Lady (Austen) Chamberlain shaking hands with Mussolini in 1924, Chamberlain and Halifax banqueting with him and toasting ‘the Emperor of Abyssinia’ in 1939, Lord Lloyd buttering up the Fascist régime in an official pamphlet as late as 1940. The net impression left by this part of the trial is quite simply that Mussolini is not guilty. Only later, when an Abyssinian, a Spaniard and an Italian anti-Fascist give their evidence, does the real case against him begin to appear.

Now, the book is a fanciful one, but this conclusion is realistic. It is immensely unlikely that the British Tories will ever put Mussolini on trial. There is nothing that they could accuse him of except his declaration of war in 1940. If the ‘trial of war criminals’ that some people enjoy dreaming about ever happens, it can only happen after revolutions in the Allied countries. But the whole notion of finding scapegoats, of blaming individuals, or parties, or nations for the calamities that have happened to us, raises other trains of thought, some of them rather disconcerting.

George Orwell, “Who are the War Criminals?”, Tribune, 1943-10-22.

June 29, 2017

Words & Numbers – Just Say No to the War on Drugs

Published on 28 Jun 2017

Ted Cruz recently asserted that the United States military needs to be sent to Mexico to attack the drug cartels head-on.

This is a bad idea. But so is the drug war itself, both constitutionally and logically.

Forty-six years and one trillion dollars after its start, President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs is still going, with 300,000 people currently in jail on drug charges. Meanwhile, 26 times as many people suffer from alcoholism as do heroin abuse, and eight times as many die from alcohol abuse as do heroin.

Many who support the war do so with the best of intentions, but has it really helped? Or has it done more harm than good, like the Prohibition of the 1920s? Is this war even legal in the first place?

James Harrigan and Antony Davies discuss these questions in this week’s Words and Numbers. Watch the conversation below or on our YouTube channel, or listen to it on SoundCloud.

June 27, 2017

QotD: The mistakes of the wealthy versus the mistakes of the poor

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

What have been the effects of progressive, centralized control of education, healthcare, and social services? It is true that the backwards practices of a few local school boards have been reformed, but the loss of a rich layer of church and private charity social services has impoverished local social capital. While today’s mass communication and the Internet removed one of the impulses to community (“I’m bored. Let’s go into town and hang out!”), a lot of the loss is due to the crowding out by a monopoly government, which had deep pockets and would use them to continue failed policies, as Microsoft in the 80s used the profits from its near-monopoly OS business to keep creating mediocre applications software until the innovators in applications were destroyed.

Very wealthy people have always been freer than others from the stifling social controls and judgments of bourgeois community standards. The elite of Paris and London in the 1800s often kept mistresses and dabbled in drug use without having their lives destroyed. The lower classes did not have the wealth to recover from errors, and those who did not hew to bourgeois social norms were isolated and damaged.

As the upper middle classes in the US grew as wealthy as the elite had been in the previous century after WWII, the sexual revolution and War on Poverty bestowed more social freedom on everyone — the middle and upper classes got birth control, sexual freedom, and women in the workplace, while the poor got programs to “uplift” them from poverty (a term which exposes the condescension involved). Social workers in vast numbers were hired to distribute assistance, free of any obligation — except for unmarried mothers, who were told their assistance would be cut if they married a working man.

Over the course of several generations, the well-off used their freedoms and came out relatively unscathed — families were still largely intact, children were still trained in the arts of civilization and followed the path of university and marriage into professional careers. But the artificial assistance to the poor, with its lack of community obligations and support and its immediate withdrawal in the event of marriage and better work, removed the social incentives that keep healthy communities healthy. Intact families grew less common. Crime and social pathologies became the norm in poor inner-city communities. As conditions worsened, the motivated and organized left for more civilized neighborhoods with better schools. The segregation of cities and even whole regions by income increased. Whole generations of children were poorly raised, poorly schooled, and left to drift without purpose or guidance from now-absent fathers, who were in prison or adrift themselves.

Jeb Kinnison, “Real-life ‘Hunger Games'”, According to Hoyt, 2015-09-25.

June 24, 2017

The murder of Philando Castile

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Thomas Knapp on what he calls “The Castile Doctrine” … the police being held to far lower standards than ordinary citizens:

On June 16, a jury acquitted St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez of all charges in the 2016 killing of motorist Philando Castile. That acquittal was, in a sense, also a death sentence — not for Yanez, but for future motorists unfortunate enough to encounter cops like him.

No, this is not a “bad cop” story. It’s a sad tale and I actually feel sorry for Yanez. But the facts are what they are.

Yanez killed Castile. The killing was caught on video and neither Yanez nor his attorneys denied it.

His defense (that he feared for his life) was based on ridiculous grounds relating to the smell of cannabis and the presence of a child (“I thought, I was gonna die, and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing, then what, what care does he give about me?”).

I find his justification to be astonishing … how can a man who thinks like this have ever been trusted with a gun and a badge?

Castile had informed Yanez that he possessed a concealed weapon and a permit for it, and was following Yanez’s orders to produce the permit when Yanez panicked and fired.

Key word: Panicked. His fear wasn’t justified. It wasn’t reasonable. It was unthinking and irrational. That made him culpably negligent in the killing.

[…]

The jury, in relieving him of the consequences of that failure, continued a sad tradition of holding law enforcement officers to a lesser standard of conduct than ordinary Americans. In doing so, they made the world a safer place for cops who shouldn’t be cops — and a more dangerous place for the rest of us.

US law generally holds civilian gun owners to much higher standards in cases like this than they ever seem to expect their own law enforcement officers to meet. A civilian who shot a driver in a similar situation would be lucky to only be facing manslaughter charges, but might well be convicted of first degree murder. A cop? Every extenuating circumstance is given full weight by both judge and jury. A person with no formal training is expected (and required) to be cool, calm, and collected under unexpected extreme stress, while a trained officer is given a pass for “panic” and irresponsible gunplay. Where’s the justice?

Update, 27 June: Even more puzzling is the virtual silence of the National Rifle Association (NRA) over this judicial killing:

These are gruesomely interesting times in the American gun debate. The footage of Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez killing motorist Philando Castile wasn’t enough to convict him in a court of law, but it’s no less damning for that. The more these videos pile up, the harder it gets to rationalize American police forces’ objectively insane collective death count.

The circumstances of Castile’s death are particularly enraging for gun rights activists — or, rather, they ought to be. Castile calmly informed Yanez he was legally armed, just as he should have; Yanez freaked out and, seconds later, pumped seven bullets into the car. By rights, many have observed, the NRA should be leading marches through the Twin Cities. Instead it’s saying and doing bugger all. Not a good look.

On the other side of the great divide, the gun control movement is almost in hibernation — and understandably so. Theirs is a tough climb at the best of times; with a Republican House and Senate it’s a sheer cliff.

June 18, 2017

Meet the Texas Lawmaker Fighting Trump on Civil Asset Forfeiture

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 7 Jun 2017

Konni Burton has emerged as the state’s fiercest opponent of civil asset forfeiture.

When the White House hosted a meeting of sheriffs from across the country last February, President Donald Trump joked about destroying the career of a Texas state senator who supported reforms to civil asset forfeiture laws — a controversial practice where police can seize cash and property of people suspected — but in most cases never convicted or charged with a crime.

Though Trump’s comments were meant to support police, they’ve had the opposite of their intended impact — it’s re-energized the push for reform.

Texas state senator Konni Burton was one of many local lawmakers outraged by Trump’s comments. She’s a tea party leader from the Dallas-Fort Worth area who also happens to be pro-life and pro-borders. Burton isn’t the unnamed state senator Trump offered to destroy, but she’s emerged as the state’s fiercest opponent of civil asset forfeiture.

“When you give law enforcement the ability to take your property without a conviction that’s big government,” Burton says.

Last December, Burton filed legislation that would repeal civil asset forfeiture in the state and replace it with criminal asset forfeiture.

“Police can still seize property that they think has been involved in a crime,” says Burton, “but for them to keep it … you have to be convicted of a crime.”

Texas has tried for years to reform civil asset forfeiture laws after horror stories began to emerge about the practice.

One of the most horrifying cases occurred in 2005, when cops seized $10,000 from Javier Gonzales who was driving from Austin to the border town of Brownsville to make funeral arrangements for his dying aunt. The cops didn’t find any drugs or contraband in his car, but they pressured Gonzales to sign away his rights to the cash under the threat of a felony money laundering charge.

Gonzales took the case to court and eventually won his money back in April of 2008.

And in 2012 the ACLU settled a class action lawsuit against the city of Tenaha where cops illegally seized nearly $3 million from traffic stops involving mostly Black and Latino drivers. Victims were told that they could either sign their cash over to the city or go to jail.

Cases like this have earned Texas a D+ from the Institute for Justice for forfeiture laws. Data from the libertarian legal organization shows that the state takes in an average of $41.6 million dollars a year to local law enforcement agencies as a result of these seizures.

Burton’s bill has bipartisan support, but it faces an uphill battle in the Texas legislature where it’s faced opposition from “tough on crime” lawmakers and law enforcement agencies. Burton says her legislation isn’t about stopping police from doing their job, but protecting the property rights of all Texans.

“Everybody is ready for this to be reformed,” Burton says. “You know it’s just upside down and antithetical to what our country should stand for.”

Produced by Alexis Garcia. Camera by Paul Detrick, Austin Bragg, and Meredith Bragg. Music by the Unicorn Heads.

QotD: Punishment, Coercion, and Revenge

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

Because I’m both both a libertarian and famous for conducting a successful propaganda campaign, libertarian activists sometimes come to me for tactical advice. During a recent email exchange, one of these criticized me for wishing (as he thought) to “punish” the Islamist enemies of the U.S. and Western civilization.

I explained that I have no desire to punish the perpetrators of 9/11; what I want is vengeance and death. Vengeance for us, death for them. Whether they experience ‘punishment’ during the process is of little or no interest to me.

My correspondent was reflecting a common confusion about the distinctions among coercion, revenge, and punishment. Coercion is intended to make another do your will instead of their own; vengeance is intended to discharge your own anger and fear. Punishment is neither of these things.

Punishment is a form of respect you pay to someone who is at least potentially a member of the web of trust that defines your ethical community. We punish ordinary criminals to deter them from repeating criminal behavior, because we believe they know what ethical behavior is and that by deterring them from crime we help them re-integrate with an ethical community they have never in any fundamental sense departed.

By contrast, we do not punish the criminally insane. We confine them and sometimes kill them for our own safety, but we do not make them suffer in an effort to deter them from insanity. Just to state the aim is to make obvious how absurd it is. Hannibal Lecter, and his all-too-real prototypes, lack the capacity to respond to punishment by re-integrating with an ethical community.

In fact, criminal psychopaths are not even potentially members of an ethical community to begin with. There is something broken or missing in them that makes participation in the web of trust impossible; perhaps the capacity to emotionally identify with other human beings, perhaps conscience, perhaps something larger and harder to name. They have other behavioral deficits, including poor impulse control, associated with subtle neurological damage. By existing, they demonstrate something most of us would rather not know; which is that there are creatures who — though they speak, and reason, and feign humanity — have nothing but evil in them.

Eric S. Raymond, “Punishment, Coercion, and Revenge”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-07-05.

June 3, 2017

Ned Kelly – Lies – Extra History

Filed under: Australia, History, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on Apr 29, 2017

We know so much about Ned Kelly’s life through documents recorded at the time, and yet disputes over those details remind us how much different people’s perspectives shapes our understanding of events. James Portnow interviews series writer Soraya Een Hajji about Ned Kelly!

May 22, 2017

Ned Kelly – V: The Iron Outlaw – Extra History

Filed under: Australia, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on Apr 15, 2017

Ned Kelly sought revenge against the police. He built plate armor and planned to derail their train so he could kill them, but his plan was betrayed and police surrounded him and his hostages. It all came to one final showdown in Glenrowan, Australia.

May 13, 2017

University life – it’s even worse than you think it is

Filed under: Education, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

As we have learned over the last few years, university campuses are worse than active war zones for women at risk of sexual assault with one in five four three suffering an assault during their time there every year. However, it now appears that American campuses are also dystopian hotbeds of hunger:

Over the last generation or so, major progress has been made in reducing hunger and malnourishment worldwide. Working together, governments, NGOs, and the private sector have almost halved the proportion of hungry people around the world—from 23 percent in 1990 to under 13 percent in 2014. And yet, if some recent studies are to be believed, one group appears to be suffering disproportionately: American college students. According to an October 2016 survey, “Hunger on Campus,” 48 percent of respondents “reported food insecurity in the previous 30 days,” which means that college students suffer this way in the same proportion as the population of countries like Ethiopia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Congo. “There’s a Hunger Problem on America’s College Campuses,” CNN’s website reported late last year. Who knew that American universities were famine zones?

Well, not so fast. One problem with this discussion is the fuzzy definition of “food insecurity,” which many general readers might confuse with the more empirically rigorous, medically defined category of malnutrition. By contrast, food insecurity is a self-reported, broadly defined indicator, heavily influenced by how questions are asked in surveys (and how different cultures and populations respond to those inquiries). The USDA estimates that 12.7 percent of Americans are food-insecure, or what it defines as lacking “ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods“ acquired in “socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing or other coping strategies).”

Of course, 12.7 percent is a far cry from 48 percent. The disconnect between the on- and off-campus numbers grows partially out of the fact that almost all the research behind the high collegiate numbers has been collected by partisan advocacy groups with a vested interest in portraying a campus hunger crisis. “Hunger on Campus,” for example, was put together by the College and University Food Bank Alliance, the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, the Student Government Resource Center, and the Student Public Interest Research Groups. These groups use much vaguer measures of food insecurity than the USDA does. “Hunger on Campus,” for instance, is based on self-reported responses to prompts such as “I worried whether my food would run out before I got money to buy more”; “The food that I bought just didn’t last, and I didn’t have money to get more”; and “I couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals.” Respondents were asked to indicate whether these statements were “sometimes true” or “often true” over the previous 30 days.

The imprecision of the questions is compounded by problems with statistical methodology. An appendix [PDF] to “Hunger on Campus” explains that the findings are based on convenience surveys, “collected through face-to-face outreach by staff and volunteers affiliated with the organizations that coordinated the research,” and that, as a result, the findings were “not directly generalizable to the U.S. student population at large” (emphasis mine). In social science, convenience sampling — sometimes known as “grab sampling” or “opportunity sampling” — is at best considered a preliminary, rough-cut approach, generally plagued by sampling bias and always lacking in statistical rigor. If careful probability sampling is the gold standard, convenience sampling is its distant, poorer cousin.

May 12, 2017

QotD: Don’t talk to the police without legal counsel

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

“Don’t talk to law enforcement without consulting a lawyer” is simple advice. Anyone can follow it. Most of us understand why it’s a good idea. But too many people reject the advice because of a common and misplaced fear. It’s the fear that if they don’t return that detective’s call immediately, if they don’t invite the FBI agents at their door in and answer their questions, if they don’t cooperate, they will be seen as the sort of person who wants a lawyer. They will be seen as someone suspicious. They will lose the opportunity to “clear all this up” by “cooperating.”

If I say I want to talk to a lawyer, won’t I make things worse?

No. Almost certainly not.

When you view any interaction as your only opportunity to “cooperate,” you’re accepting a false premise, a law enforcement pressure tactic calculated to get you to act against your best interests and better judgment. On television, cops constantly tell suspects “you have to talk now, talk first, or we’ll give a deal to your buddy.” On television, that proposition is presented as true. But real life isn’t like television. In real life, that “now or never” proposition is almost always false. In 21 years practicing criminal law, I have never seen a circumstance where stopping the interview and talking to a lawyer would have destroyed someone’s opportunity to talk to law enforcement and resulted in harm to their best interests. There’s always been another chance, once the client has talked to a lawyer and taken advantage of competent advice about the situation.

The police want you to talk immediately, now, when they are unexpectedly at your front door. They want you to be startled, nervous, out-of-sorts. They want you to blurt things out — either admit true things that they can use against you, or make false statements that they can disprove and use to show you’re a liar. They don’t want you to have time to collect your thoughts, to refresh your memory about the events they are asking about, to look at any relevant documents or evidence, or to figure out the legal significance of the situation. The police know that’s against your best interests. They know that you should talk to a lawyer first. How do you know that they know that? You know because police officers consistently push for state laws and union rules allowing them to talk to a lawyer, review evidence, and take advantage of a waiting period before being interviewed about use-of-force incidents.

Good people — honest people — tend to think “I’ve done nothing wrong, so if I tell the truth now, I can clear this up.” They think “talking can’t hurt me because I haven’t done anything wrong, and because I won’t lie.” It would be wonderful if that were true, but it’s not.

Ken White, “‘If I Just Talk To The Police I Can Clear This Up’ — The Dangerous Delusion”, Brown, White & Osborn, 2015-09-24.

May 9, 2017

Ned Kelly – IV: Kelly Country – Extra History

Filed under: Australia, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 8 Apr 2017

Hunted by the police, the Kelly Gang decided to strike back instead of hiding. Since he blamed the rich for all his troubles, Ned took aim at the banks and pulled off a pair of brazen robberies that helped win him renown across the countryside.

May 7, 2017

Deadly Africa

Filed under: Africa, Environment, Health — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Kim du Toit reposted something he wrote back in 2002 about the dangers to life and limb people face in Africa before you factor in dysfunctional governments, terrorists, and continuing ethnic disputes from hundreds of years ago:

When it comes to any analysis of the problems facing Africa, Western society, and particularly people from the United States, encounter a logical disconnect that makes clear analysis impossible. That disconnect is the way life is regarded in the West (it’s precious, must be protected at all costs etc.), compared to the way life, and death, are regarded in Africa. Let me try to quantify this statement.

In Africa, life is cheap. There are so many ways to die in Africa that death is far more commonplace than in the West. You can die from so many things: snakebite, insect bite, wild animal attack, disease, starvation, food poisoning… the list goes on and on. At one time, crocodiles accounted for more deaths in sub-Saharan Africa than gunfire, for example. Now add the usual human tragedy (murder, assault, warfare and the rest), and you can begin to understand why the life expectancy for an African is low — in fact, horrifyingly low, if you remove White Africans from the statistics (they tend to be more urbanized, and more Western in behavior and outlook). Finally, if you add the horrifying spread of AIDS into the equation, anyone born in sub-Saharan Africa this century will be lucky to reach age forty.

I lived in Africa for over thirty years. Growing up there, I was infused with several African traits — traits which are not common in Western civilization. The almost-casual attitude towards death was one. (Another is a morbid fear of snakes.)

So because of my African background, I am seldom moved at the sight of death, unless it’s accidental, or it affects someone close to me. (Death which strikes at total strangers, of course, is mostly ignored.) Of my circle of about eighteen or so friends with whom I grew up, and whom I would consider “close”, only about eight survive today — and not one of the survivors is over the age of fifty. Two friends died from stepping on landmines while on Army duty in Namibia. Three died in horrific car accidents (and lest one thinks that this is not confined to Africa, one was caused by a kudu flying through a windshield and impaling the guy through the chest with its hoof — not your everyday traffic accident in, say, Florida). One was bitten by a snake, and died from heart failure. Another two also died of heart failure, but they were hopeless drunkards. Two were shot by muggers. The last went out on his surfboard one day and was never seen again (did I mention that sharks are plentiful off the African coasts and in the major rivers?). My experience is not uncommon in South Africa — and north of the Limpopo River (the border with Zimbabwe), I suspect that others would show worse statistics.

The death toll wasn’t just confined to my friends. When I was still living in Johannesburg, the newspaper carried daily stories of people mauled by lions, or attacked by rival tribesmen, or dying from some unspeakable disease (and this was pre-AIDS Africa too) and in general, succumbing to some of Africa’s many answers to the population explosion. Add to that the normal death toll from rampant crime, illness, poverty, flood, famine, traffic, and the police, and you’ll begin to get the idea.

My favorite African story actually happened after I left the country. An American executive took a job over there, and on his very first day, the newspaper headlines read:
“Three Headless Bodies Found”.
The next day: “Three Heads Found”.
The third day: “Heads Don’t Match Bodies”.

You can’t make this stuff up.

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