Quotulatiousness

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 29, 2014

Mass murder as performance art

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:21

Kevin Williamson on the most recent mass killing:

Mass murders on the Elliot Rodger model are not a modern thing; we all know the story of Columbine, but the worst school slaughter in American history happened in 1927 in Michigan. Nor are they a gun thing; that Michigan massacre required no firearms, and neither did the crimes of Timothy McVeigh. They are not a “white privilege” thing, soiled as I feel for being obliged to write the words “white privilege”; the worst such massacre in recent U.S. history was carried out by a Korean-born American. They are not a male thing; Brenda Spencer’s explanation of her shooting spree in San Diego inspired the song “I Don’t Like Mondays.” They are not an American thing; Anders Breivik of Norway carried out the largest mass murder in modern history, though it is possible that Beijing’s Tian Mingjian killed more; Europe, the Americas, and Asia have experienced roughly comparable numbers of mass murders, with the Asian numbers slightly ahead of the rest. They are not an ideological thing; mass murders sometimes issue manifestos, but they are generally incoherent and shallow. The phenomenon of mass killings has little to do with race, sex, politics, economics, or the availability of legal firearms. Such episodes are primarily an act of theater.

[...]

Elliot Rodger’s family was in relatively difficult financial circumstances, though relatively must be emphasized. His father was the assistant director of The Hunger Games, and the young man was apparently proud of his BMW coupe, but his family’s financial position was modest by Hollywood standards. Through his family, Rodger enjoyed some enviable social connections, but could not achieve the connection he desired, a romantic one. His was an individualism suffered as a burden. In another century, his life might have been given some structure by the church or by his extended family, or simply by the fundamental struggle to feed and shelter himself, which was the organizing principle of the great majority of human lives for millennia. Modernity sets us free, but it does not offer any answer to the question, “Free to do what?”

Art, particularly theater, has for a long time helped to answer that question. What we see on stage, however far removed from our own experience, is an intensified version of our own lives. The Mass is, if nothing else, an act of theater, but it is also the case, as Mikhail Bakunin wrote, that “the passion for destruction is a creative passion.” It is not mere coincidence that so many mass murderers, from the Columbine killers to McVeigh, imagine themselves to be instigators of revolution, or that their serial-killer cousins so often think of themselves as artists. Their delusions are pathetic, but they are not at all alien to common human experience. That they so often end in suicide is not coincidence, either. Their rampages are at once a quest for significance and a final escape from significance and its burdens. Whatever particular motive such killers cite is secondary at best. The killing itself is the point — it is not a means to some other end.

May 25, 2014

Our modern tendency is to blame anyone and anything but the murderer

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:04

Brendan O’Neill on the Santa Barbara murders:

The bodies in Santa Barbara were barely cold before feminist clicktivists were exploiting this horrendous mass murder to boost their campaign against sexist trolling and online misogyny. The revelation that the shooter, Elliot Rodger, was a visitor to those saddo-packed ‘men’s rights’ websites, and had produced a badly written 140-page screed about how much he hated women for showing no interest in him, was all that the victim-feminist lobby needed: within minutes it was saying that Rodger’s outpourings and actions confirm that we need to ‘stamp out misogyny’. He is no ‘mere glitch in the system’, they claimed, but rather the ‘product’ of a society that apparently hates women.

Let’s leave aside the fact that this kind of argument is indistinguishable from the blue-rinse, conservative insistence that violent movies make men into maniacs or that saucy novels churn out real-world rapists. Truly are radical feminists the heirs to the backward Mary Whitehouse view of human beings as the amoeba-like products of their cultural surrounds, in this case of sexist websites — a view which not only treats us all as easily brainwashed by movies and literature but, even worse, lessens actual killers’ and rapists’ responsibility for their actions by depicting them as simply the warped end products of big, bad culture. More pointedly, the reading of profound social meaning into losers’ and loners’ manifestos gives way too much credence to these individuals, overlooking the fact that more often than not they are simply grasping for a serious-sounding reason for their already existing desire to commit a crime and cause hurt.

Everyone with a cause seems to jump on events like this to push their favourite agenda: the gun control folks are also frothing that “better” gun controls would have prevented the murders (yet California already has most of the rules they demand, and the shooter got his weapons legally). Blame the guns. Blame the “men’s rights” movement. Blame video games (you know people are busy searching right now to see if the shooter played any video games at all). Blame anything except the severely disturbed mind of the shooter.

Update, 26 May. According to this slightly OTT summary, even the basic facts of the case were already being “manipulated” to further particular agendas:

Let’s examine the true facts.

- Fact: 6 people were murdered, not 7. The 7th “victim” was the chicken sh!t murderer offing himself.
- Fact: Only 2 of the 6 victims were killed by gunfire. 3 of them were stabbed to death and 1 was killed with the murder’s car.
- Fact: Only 2 of the murder victims were female, the other 4 were male.
- Fact: The magazines found in the coward’s possession were all CA legal 10 round magazines. Not the heinous, world ending “high capacity” magazines the antis attribute so much death and destruction to.
- Fact: All three handguns (note, no evil assault rifle that is the scourge of humanity) the murderer had in his possession were all legally purchased by him in CA, despite the ludicrously stringent gun laws in this state. Despite the 10 day waiting period, despite the extensive background checks, despite the state wide handgun registry, despite the “prohibited persons” database, despite the fact that he went through all the steps the anti-gunners claim they want to save lives, he was able to purchase his guns legally.

But that is just The Daily Beast, hardly a reputable news source. So, let’s take a look at what Jessica Valenti, a writer at the beacon of honest news, the Guardian, had to say. According to her, it was not his mental illness that is to blame. No, we cannot blame that because that would be a “mistake” and would only serve to stigmatize other mentally ill people. Instead, she blames the “gun culture” and “misogyny”. Yes, the war on women! Of course, why did I not see that? I’m so stupid. Then she quotes some female artist, whom I have never heard of, who incorrectly labeled this incident terrorism in a tweet. Where to start?

Well, first of all, I must point out, that not only were more of the murdered victims male than female (2-1 ratio in fact), he also made threats to kill men in his videos and “manifesto” (ie: written rantings of a psycho), but since that does not bolster her point, she conveniently ignores that. As for the “gun culture” involvement in this crime, since the majority of the victims of this incident were not killed with guns (again, 2-1 ratio were killed with non-guns), blaming the “gun culture” is just another false flag.

May 24, 2014

The technological democratization of law enforcement and the rise of “Little Brother”

Filed under: Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:44

If you care about your privacy, you’re equally worried about the intrusive surveillance state and the unconstrained snooping of corporations. You may now need to worry about your snoopy neighbours also getting in on the act, as Declan McCullagh explains on Google+. This is a response to someone on a private mailing list for Silicon Valley folks, who said that he had no issue with automated collection of license plate data:

Tomorrow one of your PV [Portola Valley] neighbors will set up a computer-connected camera on private property and aimed at the street. It records all those “plates exposed” going by and, by doing optical character recognition with free software such as ANPR MX (C# code, BSD-licensed), it records every time a car goes by. The DMV will happily provide drivers’ names based on the license plate*; there’s even a process for “bulk quantities” of data.** That information doesn’t include a home address, but that’s easy to come by through other searches.

Then the neighbor launches PVPeopleTracker.com. It updates in real time showing whenever someone is at home, and marks their house in bright red if they’re gone on an extended trip. If there are odd patterns of movement compared to a baseline — perhaps suspicious late-night outings — those can be flagged as well. Any visitor to PVPeopleTracker.com can sign up for handy free email alerts reporting at what time their targeted house becomes vacant each weekday morning. Other network-linked cameras in PV can supplement the PVPeopleTracker.com database, so that everyone driving in town will have their movements monitored, archived, and publicly visible at all times.

With more than one network-linked camera separated by a known distance by roads with known speed limits, it would be simple to calculate speeding violations and send automated alerts, with MP4 videos attached as evidence, to the sheriff and CHP. PVPeopleTracker.com can also be cross-referenced against databases showing, say, marijuana convictions; if your movement profile matches a known drug trafficker, law enforcement can be alerted. (Sorry about those false positives!)

May 22, 2014

Dickens 2.0 – debt prisons of the 21st century

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

At Outside the Beltway, James Joyner calls attention to the widespread practice of sending minor offenders to prison for failing to pay minor fines:

NPR’s “Morning Edition” has been running a series called “Guilty and Charged,” chronicling the plight of Americans forced to go to jail because they’re unable to pay the court fees and fines associated with very minor infractions. The Supreme Court ostensibly outlawed the practice three decades ago but left the determination as to whether defendants are truly to poor to pay or simply unwilling to trial court judges. Not shockingly, perhaps, they almost invariably presume the latter.

You can listen to Tuesday’s segment, “Unpaid Court Fees Land The Poor In 21st Century Debtors’ Prisons,” at the link. Unfortunately, they only have the audio and not a transcription. Aside from what I’ve already written in the introduction above, what really stood out to me was the sheer contempt judges displayed to indigent defendants. Despite being highly educated professionals supposedly trained in the law and selected for their ability to dispassionately way evidence and reach just results, those featured on the program were positively knee-jerk and sneering. It was as if they’d plucked some random yahoo from a Denny’s, dressed him in a black robe, and had him preside over the trial.

Today’s follow-up, “Supreme Court Ruling Not Enough To Prevent Debtors’ Prisons,” was if anything more infuriating. It dove deep into the case of Kyle Dewitt, an Iraq War vet who went to jail and got caught up in an unending series of problems with the law over catching the wrong species of bass at the wrong time of year.

[...]

I’ve long been of mind that we ought to do away with fines as a means of punishment altogether. Whether paying $150 for exceeding the speed limit (almost always some nominal fine for the offense and a much higher amount for “court costs,” owed even if one just mails in the fine and never goes to court) is a deterrent depends entirely on one’s financial circumstances. It was a big deal when I was in college; it’s a nuisance now. Further, those with the means will often spend far more than the fine plus court costs to hire an attorney to plead it to an offense that doesn’t come with points that go against their license or their insurance record. It’s incredibly inequitable.

May 9, 2014

The 1964 trial of Jack Ruby

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

The Toronto Sun shares a portion of Peter Worthington’s Looking for Trouble (now available as an e-book) dealing with the trial of Jack Ruby. Worthington had been in the room when Ruby gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald.

The Ruby trial was pure showbiz. While the witnesses and characters who surfaced during the trial were Damon Runyon, the judge and lawyers seemed straight out of Al Capp and Dogpatch. Judge Joe B. Brown’s legal education before he was elected to the bench consisted of three years of night school 35 years earlier. In Dallas he was known as Necessity – “because Necessity knows no law.”

[...]

One day as a stripper who worked at Ruby’s nightclub called Little Lynn (who was over nine months pregnant at the time), was waiting to testify, seven prisoners in the connecting county jail grabbed a woman hostage and fled. They had fashioned a pistol of soap, pencils and shoe polish, persuaded guards that it was real, and made their break, witnessed by some 100 million viewers.

Little Lynn fainted and Belli prepared to play midwife. A BBC reporter on the phone to his office was describing the action and repeatedly swore to his editors that he was neither kidding, nor had he been drinking. “Listen, you bloody fools, this is America, this is Texas … any bloody insane thing is possible here!”

The next day, the New York Daily News ran an eloquent black headline: “Oh, Dallas!”

The jury returned in 140 minutes with a guilty verdict. In Texas, where the juries set the penalty, they opted for the electric chair.

Belli returned to San Francisco in disgust. “I shall never return here; it’s an evil, bigoted, rotten, stinking town.”

As it happened, Ruby died three years later and won a form of immortality and a place in criminal and political legend.

And as for conspiracy theories, the flaw is that Oswald was an ideologue, a semi-literate left-wing extremist, while Ruby wouldn’t know what an ideologue was unless he did a strip-tease for him.

To choose two such perfect foils on which to base a presidential murder plot challenges credulity. There has been so much official deceit, perjury, rationalization and cover-up that the deeds seem [...] more sinister than they actually have been.

We will probably never know the truth.

May 8, 2014

Weighty injustice

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:30

Scott Greenfield discusses something most of us have never given any though to:

In a New York Times op-ed. former AUSA turned Minnesota lawprof Mark Osler did a mitzvah by explaining the game played in drug sentencing. After noting some of the problems recently raised about mandatory minimums, the pardon game and absurdly long Guidelines sentences, he goes on:

    Unfortunately, none of this addresses a very basic underlying problem: We continue to use the weight of narcotics as a proxy for the culpability of an individual defendant, despite this policy’s utter failure. If a kingpin imports 15 kilograms of cocaine into the country and pays a trucker $400 to carry it, they both face the same potential sentence. That’s because the laws peg minimum and maximum sentences to the weight of the drugs at issue rather than to the actual role and responsibility of the defendant. It’s a lousy system, and one that has produced unjust sentences for too many low-level offenders, created racial disparities and crowded our prisons.

[...]

But when a person is prosecuted based upon an arbitrary distinction, that he carried a certain number of grams of dope (because we can all distinguish between the weight of 7 grams and 8, right?) it should reflect a significant difference in crime and sentence.

[Radley Balko] goes on to discuss a related, but separate, issue, that drug weight is aggregate rather than pure. In other words, ten kilos of cocaine can contain 9 kilos of baby laxative, cut as it’s called in the trade, and only one of active narcotic, but it’s still ten kilos for the purpose of charging and sentence. This is a policy decision, that the purity of the drug is not considered, even though it tells a great deal about where the defendant is on the food chain of drugs. The higher the purity, the higher on the food chain, as drugs get “stepped on,” or diluted, at each level down the chain.

This applies even with less applicable concepts, such as marijuana, where the weight of stalks and stems of seized marijuana plants can be included in aggregate weight even though they are useless as drugs. The message is, you pay by the pound, regardless. It simplified the police and prosecutorial function, even as it undermines any doctrinal justification for the charge and sentence.

May 6, 2014

The hidden epidemic of rape on campus

Filed under: Law, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:34

I recently saw a claim that nearly one in five US women attending university are subject to rape or sexual assault during their academic careers. If the situation is that dangerous, why haven’t the universities and campus police done something to crack down on this crime wave? That’s because it’s not actually true: only by merging a whole range of unwelcome or unwanted contacts (or even post facto “regrets”) in with genuine criminal activity do we get to a number close to 20% of the female student population. This is not in any way to minimize the seriousness of actual rape, but conflating everything from “microaggressions” through sexual harassment all the way to sexual assault in the same category is a terrible way to help those who are the actual victims of crime. In Time, Cathy Young discusses the recent White House report on campus sexual assault:

The administration’s effort, which made headlines last week with a report by the White House task force on campus sexual assault and new Department of Education guidelines, has an indisputably noble goal. Unfortunately, it is marred by flaws, including alarmist statistics, fuzzy definitions and a polarizing ideology of presumed guilt.

One of the foundations of this crusade is the staggering claim that one in five female students are sexually assaulted while in college. This figure comes from the 2005-2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study [PDF], which, as Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler has noted, was conducted at just two schools, with a fairly low response rate. Moreover, the survey’s data for “drug- and/or alcohol-enabled sexual assault” (about 70% of the incidents in the study) lump together unconsciousness or incapacitation with intoxication that may cloud one’s judgment and affect consent. Notably, despite widespread sexual assault awareness programs, two-thirds of the college women whom the study counted as victims of drug- or alcohol-enabled rape did not think they were raped, and few felt they had suffered psychological harm.

University of Michigan economist Mark Perry also points out that, if you take police records from university campuses and factor in the White House estimate that only about 12% of campus sexual offenses are reported, you don’t get anywhere near a one-in-five victimization rate over the course of a woman’s college attendance — more like 1 in 20 or 1 in 30.

May 5, 2014

“[M]ost Canadian law societies report members to police. The [LSUC] does not.”

Filed under: Cancon, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:17

The Toronto Star‘s Kenyon Wallace, Rachel Mendleson and Dale Brazao investigate the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) and find it does not report members for criminal activity to the police:

They treat client trust accounts as their personal piggy banks, facilitate multi-million-dollar frauds and drain retirement savings of the elderly.

While most lawyers caught stealing from their clients are reprimanded, suspended or disbarred by the profession’s regulator, the vast majority avoid criminal charges, a Star investigation reveals.

The Star found that more than 230 lawyers sanctioned for criminal-like activity by the Law Society of Upper Canada in the last decade, stole, defrauded or diverted some $61 million held in trust funds for clients.

Fewer than one in five were charged criminally. Most avoided jail.

“I truly believe there are two laws — a set of rules and regulations for lawyers and a different set for everyone else,” said Richard Bikowski, who was fleeced out of $87,500 by now-disbarred Toronto lawyer Lawrence Burns.

Unlike the law societies in most other provinces, the Law Society of Upper Canada does not, as a rule, report suspected criminal acts by its members to police, no matter how much money lawyers steal.

[...]

Of the more than 1,000 discipline decisions made by the law society in the last 10 years, the Star identified 236 cases in which lawyers were sanctioned for offences that were characterized by our analysis as criminal, including theft, fraud, breach of trust, forgery and perjury.

The Star could find criminal charges for only 41 of these lawyers. In more than half of cases where criminal charges were laid, the law society sanction came after. Of those bad lawyers sentenced criminally, the punishments were generally lenient, ranging from house arrest to community service. The Star found that only 12 went to jail.

Why do so many lawyers who steal from their clients avoid criminal justice?

A big reason is that the law society in practice does not report alleged criminal offences by its members to police.

April 29, 2014

International pedophile rings – “a Bilderberg of diaper snipers”

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:07

For some reason, every decade or so a new moral panic sweeps the land (in this case, it’s showing up in multiple Western countries). Everyone gets their collective knickers in a twist over some horrible outrage which requires, nay, demands that something must be done. The panic de jour is organized gangs of pedophiles (it’s been the panic de jour several times in the last forty years). Kathy Shaidle looks at the most recent eruption of out-of-control morality:

One particularly distasteful breed of conspiracy theory that stubbornly refuses to die, however, is that which posits the existence of local, national, or even international pedophile rings.

Does pedophilia exist? Sure. However, it doesn’t follow that perverts have semiorganized themselves into some kind of parody of Freemasonry, a Bilderberg of diaper snipers.

For whatever reason — a quirk of the collective unconscious; individual shame and guilt; profound resentment of the ruling elite — the modern mind wants to believe in these vast pederast conspiracies, even though, again and again, investigations into their existence come up embarrassingly empty.

Yes, we can argue that this is because “the authorities” are members of the ring, too, but lots of “authorities” were in on Mafia and KKK malfeasance; this made prosecution difficult, but certainly not impossible. There are museums packed with primary source evidence of the Klan’s existence, and the Mob’s; contrast that with this utterly bizarre example of what can only be described as anti-journalism that appeared in the UK’s Islington Tribune earlier this month:

    Despite recognition that a huge paedophile ring preyed on Islington children’s homes in the 1970s and 1980s no one has ever been prosecuted and all the records of the homes and the names of the children who went to them have been “lost.”

Behold: After the longest and most expensive trial in American history, all charges were dropped in the McMartin Preschool child abuse case, during which an archeologist testified to the existence of “secret tunnels” on the school’s grounds, and children claimed they’d been raped at orgies at car washes.

Here in Canada, a $53 million inquiry failed to uncover a widely rumored pedophile ring in Cornwall, Ontario. (The Ontario Provincial Police had already reached the same conclusion eight years earlier.) At the end of the day — or, rather, the decade and counting — only one individual was ever convicted of any crime.

Theodore Dalrymple observed a decade ago that the people most likely to express outrage about pedophiles are actually those whose own kids tend to be neglected:

On no subject is the British public more fickle and more prone to attacks of intense but shallow emotion than childhood. Not long ago, for example, a pediatrician’s house in South Wales was attacked by a mob unable to distinguish a pediatrician from a pedophile. The attackers, of course, came from precisely the social milieu in which every kind of child abuse and neglect flourishes, in which the age of consent has been de facto abolished, and in which adults are afraid of their own offspring once they reach the age of violence. The upbringing of children in much of Britain is a witches’ brew of sentimentality, brutality, and neglect, in which overindulgence in the latest fashions, toys, or clothes, and a television in the bedroom are regarded as the highest — indeed only — manifestations of tender concern for a child’s welfare.

An earlier example happened in my home town in the late 1980s, although fortunately for Middlesbrough’s reputation the name of the county was the usual label for the moral panic: the Cleveland child abuse scandal.

The Cleveland child abuse scandal occurred in Cleveland, England in 1987, where 121 cases of suspected child sexual abuse were diagnosed by Dr Marietta Higgs and Dr Geoffrey Wyatt, paediatricians at a Middlesbrough hospital (in the now abolished county of Cleveland). The children were subject to place of safety orders, and some were removed from their parents’ care permanently. While in foster care, the children continued to be regularly examined by Dr. Higgs who subsequently accused foster parents of further abuse leading to them too being arrested.

After a number of court trials, cases involving 96 of the 121 children alleged to be victims of sexual abuse were dismissed by the courts, and 26 cases, involving children from twelve families, were found by judges to have been incorrectly diagnosed.

Despite the judicial results, the bureaucrats believed (and apparently still do believe) that the sexual abuse of all those children really did occur and that even that large number was less than a tenth of the actual problem.

April 27, 2014

The state of the US judicial system

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

In a column about Mark Steyn’s legal battles with Michael Mann, Conrad Black takes time out to revisit the overall state of the US court system:

… American justice is in a shocking condition. Too many judges in the U.S. are elected; too many are ex-prosecutors; the battle over capital punishment has taken all the air out of the room in which the infamous severity of American sentences and the unspeakable lopsidedness of prosecutorial success should be debated. This is a country that inspired the world with a vision of freedom and democracy (though Great Britain, Switzerland, much of the Netherlands, and Scandinavia were just as democratic at the time of the American Revolution). Yet the entire legal apparatus has sat like a gigantic suet pudding and the Supreme Court, in between its four-month vacations, has drunk the Kool-Aid of its own bathwater. The Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment guaranties of due process, just compensation for seizure of property, grand jury deliberations as assurance against capricious prosecution, prompt justice, access to counsel (of choice), impartial jury, and reasonable bail have been put to the shredder. The United States has six to twelve times the number of incarcerated people per capita as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, the nearest comparable countries. Even after removing from the totals all those with unstigmatizing records irrelevant to their hireability today (DUI or disorderly conduct decades ago, for example), about 15 percent of adult males are felons.

Prosecutors win 99.5 percent of their cases, 97 percent of them without trial, because of the plea bargain system, which has often been reduced to a sleazy extortion or subornation of confected and rehearsed inculpatory testimony in exchange for immunities, including from the perjury sponsored and approved by the prosecutors. This is far from what was intended by the authors of the Bill of Rights and the original propagators of the tenuous theory that American independence was a new order of the ages and the dawn of government of, by, and for the people, vested with inalienable rights, according to self-evident truths.

Beyond all that, the American legal profession is a suffocating cartel that saps 10 percent of American GDP and through its members in legislatures and regulatory authorities adds 4,000 statutes and regulations a year to the law books, steadily tightening its strangulation of American life, all and always in the name of a society of laws and the ever more equitable refinement of civilization. It would have been impossible and unreasonable to anticipate that so perceptive and spontaneous and fearless an observer as Steyn would not steadily broaden his range of fire, as he has. At one point Steyn began filing motions on his own behalf—the best written court documents you may ever read—that drip with disdain for the judicial process. He quotes Lady MacBeth and describes various pieces of the case using phrases such as “multi-car pileup,” “zombie-like,” “Potemkin hearing” and “meretricious folderol.” It would have been equally unreasonable not to foresee that the authorities upon whom his withering fire descended would not resent this deserved if unaccustomed hostility, and whatever one may think of Mann, he cannot be faulted tactically for trying to tuck himself under the wing of an affronted legal establishment. That does not justify Mann’s infliction of the hockey stick upon the world (like the great Montreal Canadiens point-man Bernard “Boom Boom” Geoffrion lowering — with considerable but probably not sufficient provocation — the real article onto the cranium of a New York Ranger forward sixty years ago) any more than it whitewashes Mann’s own insults. He has dismissed the immensely respected Danish scientist and intellectual Bjorn Lomborg as “a career fossil fuel industry apologist”; Judith Curry, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Atmospheric Sciences and an honored member of the National Research Council’s climate research committee, as a “serial climate disinformer”; Australian journalist Andrew Bolt as a “villainous” threat to the planet who is paid by Rupert Murdoch “to lie to the public” (Mann apologized for this one after Bolt—in solidarity with Steyn—threatened a lawsuit); and the rest of us as mere “climate change deniers.”

April 23, 2014

Secret laws and democracy

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:24

In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf says that a new court ruling may actually force President Obama to disclose the secret law under which he ordered the killing of at least one American citizen:

The Obama Administration has fought for years to hide its legal rationale for killing an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, after putting him on a secret kill list. Citizens have an interest in knowing whether the White House follows the law, especially when the stakes are as high as ending a life without due process. President Obama has fought to ensure his legal reasoning would never be revealed, a precedent that would help future presidents to kill without accountability.

His shortsightedness is breathtaking.

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon expressed frustration that, according to her legal analysis, the Freedom of Information Act couldn’t force a disclosure. “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws,” she wrote, “while keeping the reasons for their conclusions a secret.”

Americans ought to have been alarmed that, according to a federal judge, we’re living in an “Alice in Wonderland” reality where leaders use the law to put themselves beyond the law. But no one paid much attention as The New York Times and the ACLU appealed the decision. On Monday, they won an important victory:

    A federal appeals panel in Manhattan ordered the release… of key portions of a classified Justice Department memorandum that provided the legal justification for the targeted killing of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who intelligence officials contend had joined Al Qaeda and died in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.

    The unanimous three-judge panel, reversing a lower court decision, said the government had waived its right to keep the analysis secret in light of numerous public statements by administration officials and the Justice Department’s release of a “white paper” offering a detailed analysis of why targeted killings were legal.

April 17, 2014

Nevada standoff and the rule of law

Filed under: Environment, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:25

I haven’t been following the situation in Nevada between the armed forces of the Bureau of Land Management and the armed citizenry in support of rancher Cliven Bundy, but while my sympathies normally go toward the individual rather than the state, this case doesn’t appear to be clear-cut (and Bundy is clearly in violation of the law to some degree). Kevin Williamson seems to be in the same general state of mind:

Deserts always feel like my natural habitat, and I am very fond of them. That being said, I have, for my sins, spent a fair amount of time in Clark County, Nev., and it is not the loveliest stretch of desert in these United States, or even in the top twelve. Protecting the pristine beauty of the sun-baked and dust-caked outskirts of Las Vegas and its charismatic fauna from grazing cattle — which the Bureau of Land Management seems to regard as an Old Testament plague — seems to me to be something less than a critical national priority. At the same time, the federal government’s fundamental responsibility, which is defending the physical security of the country, is handled with remarkable nonchalance: Millions upon millions upon millions of people have crossed our borders illegally and continue to reside within them. Cliven Bundy’s cattle are treated as trespassers, and federal agents have been dispatched to rectify that trespass; at the same time, millions of illegal aliens present within our borders are treated as an inevitability that must be accommodated. In practice, our national borders are a joke, but the borders of that arid haven upon which ambles the merry Mojave desert tortoise are sacrosanct.

[...]

The relevant facts are these: 1) Very powerful political interests in Washington insist upon the scrupulous enforcement of environmental laws, and if that diminishes the interests of private property owners, so much the better, in their view. 2) Very powerful political interests in Washington do not wish to see the scrupulous enforcement of immigration laws, and if that undercuts the bottom end of the labor market or boosts Democrats’ long-term chances in Texas, so much the better, in their view.

This isn’t the rule of law. This is the rule of narrow, parochial, self-interested political factions masquerading as the rule of law.

If we are to have the rule of law, then, by all means, let’s have the rule of law: Shut down those federal subsidies and IRS penalties in states that did not create their own exchanges under the Affordable Care Act — the law plainly does not empower the federal government to treat federal exchanges identically to state exchanges. And let’s enforce the ACA’s deadlines with the same scrupulosity with which the IRS enforces its deadlines. Let’s see Lois Lerner and a few hundred IRS employees thrown in the hole for their misappropriation of federal resources, lying to Congress, etc. — and let’s at least look into prosecuting some elected Democrats for suborning those actions. And if you want to get to the real problem with illegal immigration, let’s frog-march a few CEOs, restaurateurs, and small-time contractors off to prison for violating our immigration laws — and they can carry a GM product-safety manager and a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration executive under each arm. Let’s talk about enumerated powers.

H/T to Jon, my former virtual landlord, for the link.

April 15, 2014

Militarization of the police, pervasive surveillance, incarceration rates, and other police state trappings

Filed under: Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:24

An email from Rupert included a link to this infographic illustrating the “progress” of the United States toward a police state:

Click image to see full infographic

Click image to see full infographic

It’s easy to poke fun at people who worry about the ever-growing state involvement in everyday life … well, it used to be fun until the NSA’s incredible list of surveillance programs became known. Now, paranoia is the rational state for anyone concerned with their privacy and freedom of speech. We had Godwin’s Law, which provided a useful rule of thumb for when internet arguments had passed the point of no return. This is a rare example of an argument that meets the condition of Godwin’s Law (in the infographic), yet still remains relevant.

April 7, 2014

The post-legalization hellhole that is Denver

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:54

Well, we can’t say they didn’t warn us that if Denver allowed the sale of legal marijuana, it would descend into a lawless vortex of violence:

“There will be many harmful consequences,” Douglas County Sheriff David Weaver warned in a September 2012 statement. “Expect more crime, more kids using marijuana, and pot for sale everywhere.”

One California sheriff went on Denver television to warn that, as a result of marijuana in his county, “thugs put on masks, they come to your house, they kick in your door. They point guns at you and say, ‘Give me your marijuana, give me your money.’”

Three months into its legalization experiment, Denver isn’t seeing a widespread rise in crime. Violent and property crimes actually decreased slightly, and some cities are taking a second look at allowing marijuana sales.

“We had folks, kind of doomsayers, saying, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to have riots in the streets the day they open,’” Denver City Council President Mary Beth Susman, a supporter of legal marijuana, says. “But it was so quiet.”

[...]

Prior to legalization, opponents warned property crime would rise. Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey argued robbers would prey on marijuana businesses and their customers, because they’re more likely to carry cash (and, of course, the drug).

So far, city data shows no increase in property crime. Compared to the first two months of 2013, property crime in January and February actually dropped by 12.1 percent. Reports of robberies and stolen property dropped by 6.2 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Burglaries and criminal mischief to property rose by only 0.5 percent.

Denver residents don’t seem especially concerned with the issue, either. Susman recalls a recent community meeting she held with senior citizens: when she asked if the crowd wanted her to talk about marijuana, people told her they were tired of hearing about the issue.

“Based on my general understanding in my district, it is becoming ho-hum,” Susman says.


A sign is displayed outside the 3-D Denver Discrete Dispensary on January 1, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Legalization of recreational marijuana sales in the state went into effect at 8am this morning. (Photo by Theo Stroomer/Getty Images)

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