Thursday, April 29, 2010

This is an ex blog

With Blogger ending support for FTP publishing, I've started a new blog, under the same moniker, here.

Come along and join the fun! A good time will be had by all, with appetizers and cocktails served to the first lucky participants. (Whoops! Looks like you just missed the cut-off!)

Remember, Disloyal Opposition is now Disloyal Opposition.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Border guards rough up another Canadian

"Was that a threat?"

That's how U.S. border guards at the Lewiston Bridge border crossing responded to a Canadian shopper when, exasperated by the abusive treatment afforded to him and his wife, he asked, "what are you going to do? Shoot me?"

Moments later, the couple were in handcuffs, with American officials insisting that they'd been threatened and assaulted. Fortunately, the Canadian man -- identified only as "qtronman" on YouTube -- had recorded the incident, and he later uploaded the recording, so we know the border agents are lying.

The couple were on their way to a mall in Niagara Falls, in the United States, when they were ordered out of their car by a U.S. border guard -- apparently because they didn't care for the Canadians' impatient tone when they couldn't name the specific stores they'd be visiting.

Throughout the exchange leading to the arrest, the Canadian man comes across as exasperated but cooperative -- not out-of-line for a person dealing with other adults he considers to be acting in an abusive and irrational way. He didn't bow and scrape, though, which may have antagonized the border guards.

The officials, on the other hand, sound provocative, and even as if they're enjoying their use of authority.

Official: "We don't need any grounds."

Shopper: "Well, that's ridiculous."

Official: "That's the United States. I'm sorry. I don't know what to tell you."

Shopper: "You don't need any grounds for your actions?"

Official: "Absolutely not."

In related news, Peter Watts, a Canadian scientist and science fiction writer, has been fined roughly $1,500 by a U.S. court after he was roughed up by U.S. officials at a border crossing in Michigan.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Arizona poised for anti-immigrant pogrom

Will she or won't she? Join the nativist frenzy that has infected Arizona, that is. And the "she" in question is the Grand Canyon State's Governor Jan Brewer, on whose desk festers one of the more far-reaching efforts to invoke police-state tactics in the name of persecuting people who just want to be Americans.

How nasty is the Arizona immigration bill? Well, the state Senate's own summary is available here, and the text of the bill is here. Among its failings, if passed, the law would require government employees, including law-enforcement officials, to inquire into the immigration status of anybody they encounter "if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the U.S."

What constitute's reasonable suspicion? That's not defined, so it's pretty much up to the petty official on the spot. That makes every trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and every effort to report a crime, a potential immigration interrogation for anybody with a sun tan. Nativist Arizonans like to complain that immigrants don't submit to the various licenses and permits that bedevil modern life. If untrue in the past, that will certainly be true in the future.

And immigrant neighborhoods may have to deal with criminals themselves, since a call to 911 will just be an invitation for trouble.

The bill also prohibits any effort to restrict government officials from compiling and exchanging information on people's immigration status for even the most petty of reasons. That's anybody's status -- not just aliens. Welcome to the database.

The bill turns mere presence on public or private land in the state by an alien into trespassing if that person "is not carrying his or her alien registration card or has willfully failed to register." You say you invited them onto your land? Too bad -- it's still trespassing, and a separate charge because you dared to "conceal, harbor or shield an alien from detection."

Oh, and the bill also forbids hiring day laborers from your car. Really. There must be a union guy among the authors.

Cardinal Roger Mahony may have exaggerated a tad when he referred to "German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques" (Arizona still lags in the areas of forced labor and bullets behind the ear), but the immigration law is intrusive and authoritarian. It assumes that economic activity is a privilege to be allocated by the state and that individuals must submit themselves to inspection by government officials until they have proven the pristine status of their nationality.

Perhaps the proposed law's worst sin, aside from its brutal hostility toward people seeking to do nothing more than work hard and make a life for themselves in this country, is the vastly expanded opportunities it creates for government officials to harass anybody they meet and force them to produce documents and demonstrate their innocence of alien taint.

It really is nativism as channeled through a bureaucratic police state -- one that's more Brazil than Schindler's List.

And that's the mess sitting on Jan Brewer's desk.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Americans distrust government? You don't say ...

For any thinking person, it can only be welcome news that the Pew Research Center reports, "[r]ather than an activist government to deal with the nation’s top problems, the public now wants government reformed and growing numbers want its power curtailed." In fact, says Pew, "[j]ust 22% say they can trust the government in Washington almost always or most of the time, among the lowest measures in half a century." It appears that perception is finally catching up with reality, and Americans are growing increasingly aware of the monster they've created.

By "reality" I don't mean that government is necessarily an unalloyed evil (though a strong argument could be made to that effect). But government's very nature is one that deserves skepticism and mistrust. After all, as an institution with a "monopoly on violence," there's no reason to involve government in any aspect of human life unless you're trying to make people do things they don't want to do -- with dire consequences for noncompliance. However necessary that may be, the role of designated arm-twister is one that should come heavily laden with distrust.

That's especially true when you consider the actual track record of government, whether federal, state or local. From the use of eminent domain to increase tax revenues to surveillance of politically active organizations to violent raids and road-side stops to enforce prohibitions on disfavored intoxicants (and legally mug motorists), government is an intrusive agency at best and an abusive one at worst. Government officials are perfectly capable of violating rights and also punishing critics.

So it's no surprise that trust in government has declined over the years, from a high back in the neolithic era ... errr ... Eisenhower-through-Johnson days to today's rock-bottom low. What is surprising is that trust was ever high. To be honest, government hasn't necessarily changed and become more contemptible since the gray-flannel era -- we may have the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Patriot Act now, but back then the powers-that-be unleashed the IRS on enemies of the administration of the moment, deposed foreign leaders and sent boys to die in Vietnam.

It's worth noting that Americans expressed their greatest trust in government at a time when media was at its most concentrated and controlled -- dwindling newspapers, a few heavily regulated broadcast networks, a muzzling Fairness Doctrine and no Internet. These days, a handful of politician-friendly editors won't keep government misdeeds from being reported and critiqued far and wide, since even the smallest publications have wide reach online. The result is the graph above, showing a fairly steady decline in trust over the years, offset only by the brief post-9/11 panic.

So if trust is falling, what's rising? Try anger at government, which has risen from 12% in 1997 to 21% today. And, logically, also rising is a desire for less of what people don't trust: about half of Americans now consistently say they want smaller government.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It passed, but we still can't figure it out

I don't for a minute think that our fearless lawmakers are going to let themselves be even momentarily inconvenienced by the mere letter of the legislation they produced all by their little selves, but isn't this a chuckle?
In a new report, the Congressional Research Service says the law may have significant unintended consequences for the “personal health insurance coverage” of senators, representatives and their staff members.

For example, it says, the law may “remove members of Congress and Congressional staff” from their current coverage, in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, before any alternatives are available. 

The congresscritters do have a somewhat credible out, though. Congressional researchers suggest that the law was drafted so unclearly that it "raises questions regarding interpretation and implementation that cannot be definitively resolved by the Congressional Research Service."

Hmmm ... Wasn't passing the law supposed to be key to clarifying its contents? Or so said, David Axelrod, anyway.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chasing their own anti-racist tails

I graduated from college in 1987. I was there for the initial rise of "political correctness," when the hair-shirt brigades descended on universities to demonstrate conclusively that dedicated lefties could be every bit as humorless and intolerant as the most frigid tee-totaling Methodists. No sex, no jokes, no fun -- and, most of all, no comfort in your own skin.

Well, it's good -- sort of -- to know that some things never change. Over twenty years later, that aversion to leaving people at peace to be their own damned imperfect selves comes through in hilarious form in a column from Canada's National Post, after an editor sat in on a four-part Toronto workshop on "Thinking About Whiteness and Doing Anti-Racism." Here's author Jonathan Kay's take on one participant's frenzy of self-doubt about the propriety of sharing her expertise with a class full of students, since that expertise might be the result of race-based advantages.
"Should I say yes? Or is it my responsibility to say no?" she said. "But then [my friend] may say, ‘I want you to do it -- because you have a particular approach ...'

"But wait! Could it be that the reason I have that ‘particular approach' is that I've been raised to think that I could have that particular approach, that I have the ability, that I am able to access education in a particular way? All these things are in my head, in my heart, not really knowing how to respond. On the other hand, I also recognize that the person asking me has the agency to decide that I'm the right person ... so I say yes! ... But then I'm still thinking ‘I don't know if I did the right thing.' I still struggle with this all the time ..."
All of this over whether or not to give a presentation on media arts. As Kay concludes:
In private conversation, they all seemed like good-hearted, intelligent people. But like communist die-hards confessing their counter-revolutionary thought-crimes at a Soviet workers' council, or devout Catholics on their knees in the confessional, they also seemed utterly consumed by their sin, regarding their pallor as a sort of moral leprosy. I came to see them as Lady Macbeths in reverse -- cursing skin with nary a "damn'd spot." Even basic communication with friends and fellow activists, I observed, was a plodding agony of self-censorship, in which every syllable was scrutinized for subconscious racist connotations as it was leaving their mouths.
Good times.

Have you ever wondered why some people don't just kill themselves?

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Prohibition by any other name

Prohibition, that long, national nightmare of officially mandated (and popularly ignored) sobriety, ended in 1933, and popular mythology has it that, upon its repeal, we all cracked open a cold one and lived happily ever after. Oh, if it were only so. In fact, the country's ambivalence toward alcohol -- at least as far as lawmakers and regulators are concerned -- continues. Stupid and intrusive laws still hobble the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol -- not outlawing the business but, in fine American fashion, just making it a little more difficult and painful than it ought to be.

For one thing, never mind that the cocktail is largely an American concoction, too many of our countrymen object to the idea of blending alcohol with anything that might make it yummier. Reporting on the consequences of a law apparently rooted in the fear that the road to damnation is often taken one bonbon at a time, the Raleigh News & Observer tells us:
Savage, a Raleigh chocolatier whose alcohol-spiced chocolates are - make that were - sold as quickly as he made them, has had to get even more creative than usual to keep the flavors his customers covet without the state-forbidden rum, scotch and beer he used as spices.

Someone from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services called him in late March, he said. "They told me I had to cease and desist" selling the most popular creations "because they contained alcohol," he said.
Mixing caffeine with booze has also come under fire (was Castro's rise to power sparked by the heady mixture of rum and coke?). Reason's Jacob Sullum reports:
In November the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned 27 manufacturers that they may be violating the law by selling alcoholic beverages that contain caffeine. Although the FDA allows the use of caffeine in soft drinks, it has never approved mixing the stimulant with alcohol. Unless the companies can demonstrate that this particular use of caffeine is “generally recognized as safe,” the FDA said, they have to take their products off the market.
And even bartenders mixing long-proven recipes are at risk from the pleasure cops. In states around the country, it's difficult for bartenders to get components for many traditional cocktails, and sometimes even illegal for them to manufacture their own mixers or to incorporate ingredients regularly used by chefs and pastry cooks -- like egg whites. Reason TV documents the hoops mixologists have to jump through in this interview with Todd Thrasher of the PX Lounge in Alexandria, Virginia.

But keeping your booze unblended won't keep you out of trouble. In San Bernardino, California, authorities have targeted alcohol that's too convenient.
Proponents say a new law called a "deemed-approved ordinance" would standardize city rules affecting liquor stores. Enacting this kind of law could make it easier for city officials to clamp down on the sale of "forties" and other single servings of beer and malt liquor that some officials and researchers link to alcohol-fueled crime.
Because Heaven on Earth will be at hand when you can only buy your beer by the case.

Alcohol remains mostly legal in most places in the United States. But officials seem eternally torn about the wisdom of letting us enjoy our drinks in peace. No, we don't have Prohibition any more. Instead, we get nags and nannies eternally fretting that we may actually be enjoying our booze.