Archives for: July 2012

The Whale Rider

You want to know why I fear and suspect government? Here it is in a nutshell:

The huge humpback whale whose friendliness precipitated a surreal seven-year — so far — federal hunt for criminality surely did not feel put upon. Nevertheless, our unhinged government, with an obsession like that of Melville’s Ahab, has crippled Nancy Black’s scientific career, cost her more than $100,000 in legal fees — so far — and might sentence her to 20 years in prison. This Kafkaesque burlesque of law enforcement began when someone whistled.

Dr. Black is a marine biologist. In 2005, a member of her crew whistled at a humpback whale, hoping to get it stay around. An employee asked NOAA if this was “harassment” of a marine mammal. That alone would be a little bit crazy. But Black complied with their request for information and sent them a video of the event. She edited the video to highlight the whistling.

Oops.

According to the Feds, this was a felony: a material false statement. Never mind that she didn’t hide any evidence and didn’t make any false statements; just changed the emphasis. No, the feds wanted to go after her. This is a level of Kafkaism below “lying to investigators”.

The Feds raided her home. They then brought another charge. When she had found killer whales feeding on whale blubber, she put a camera in a piece of it and put it back in the water. “But that’s feeding killer whales!” said the Feds.

And so it goes. You can read more from Reason on this subject here and here.

You may think this is a weird case but you would think wrong. Harvey Silverglate, in his book Three Felonies a Day documented this again and again and again (read his latest infuriating op-ed here). This is the way Feds operate. If they have decided to investigate you, they will find something you have done. Or they will simply harass and threaten you until you plead guilty to something just to make it stop.

Oh, and there’s this:

Six years ago, NOAA agents, who evidently consider the First Amendment a dispensable nuisance, told Black’s scientific colleagues not to talk to her and to inform them if they were contacted by her or her lawyers. Since then she has not spoken with one of her best friends.

To finance her defense she has cashed out her life’s savings, which otherwise might have purchased a bigger boat. The government probably has spent millions. It delivered an administrative subpoena to her accountant, although no charge against her has anything to do with finances.

This, again, is not unusual. It has become modus operandi for the Feds to try to isolate their target socially, professionally and economically. They have cut deals with targeted businesses that involve cutting employees loose as sacrificial offerings. They have used asset forfeiture to try to deprive targets of lawyers. And they use broad subpoena powers to investigate everything.

Are either of our two candidates talking about this? Anyone talking about reducing the over 4000 felony crimes that have been created? Anyone talking about restoring the concept of mens rea to our judicial system?

Nope.

Romney Culture

Mitt Romney said this the other day:

In the speech, Mr. Romney mentioned books that had influenced his thinking about nations — particularly “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” by David S. Landes, which, he said, argues that culture is the defining factor in determining the success of a society.

“Culture makes all the difference,” Mr. Romney said. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

He added, “As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.”

The remarks, which vastly understated the disparities between the societies, drew a swift rejoinder from Palestinian leaders. In an interview with The Associated Press, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, called Mr. Romney’s remarks racist.

Romney is trying to walk back the comments. And the Left is screaming about his racism. But I think people are missing the forest for the trees here.

First, the Palestinian Authority correctly notes that Israel has had a trade embargo, economic restrictions and occupation. That’s all true and is having an absolutely devastating effect. However, Israel is not the only country that is making life difficult for Palestine. None of the Arab nations are lifting a finger to help Palestine. Jordan and Egypt, specifically, have massively contributed to the problem by closing borders (and in Jordan’s case, shooting people during Black September). Iran, Hussein’s Iraq and Syria have specifically supported radical elements, making the place even more difficult to govern. And we can not sit here and pretend that the Palestinians themselves have not contributed to their own sorrows. Hamas controlled much of Palestine for a while and their supposed reconciliation with the Authority has stalled.

So, yes, the condition of Palestine is something that was done to them. But the people who did it were, at least in part, their fellow Arabs and, at least in part, themselves.

Moreover, I don’t think you can really ignore Romney’s general point. Israel has a far greater per capita income ($28-31,000) than Egypt ($6,000), Jordan ($6,000), Syria ($5,000) or Iraq ($4,000 now and about the same before the wars), nations they have not attacked or embargoed. The only nations in that region that come anywhere close to Israel’s success are Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which also happen to sit on massive lakes of oil. Were it not for the oil, they would be in a worse situation, probably no better off that Syria.

I don’t see how you can possibly look at the region and not conclude, as Mitt Romney has, that Israel’s culture has something to do with the stark difference, not between them and Palestine but between them and everyone. It is the only real democracy in the region, the only country that has a real economy as opposed to an oiligarchy, the only country that has gender equality, the only country that has a semblance of human rights and the only country that has built a real 21st century industrial base.

And that’s the point. Romney wasn’t running down Palestinian culture as much as he was praising Israeli culture. The comparisons to Chile and the US make that abundantly clear. What he was talking about — and what any sensible person would agree with — is that poverty is the natural state of man. The only way out is accountable government, free markets and a good work ethic. We know at least the first two, in the Middle East, are unique to Israel.

Weekend Roundup

It’s a slow week in politics and the Olympics are on. But that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of really stupid stories to cover. Here’s a look at what’s going on with the election three months away (and God, it can’t happen a moment too soon, can it?)

Nikki Haley is in big trouble for getting her daughter a state job. Surely, this job must be a six figure cushy … what? … what?! … she’s working part-time in a gift shop? This is what your outrage-o-meter got pinged by? If this is Nikki Haley’s big scandal, she must be the cleanest fucking governor ever.

NBC’s Olympics coverage is coming in for its usual thrashing. Look, I get the tape delay: people want to watch the stuff in prime time. But you’d think NBC would figure out how to make their streaming more accessible: since I don’t have a cable subscription, I’m shut out. More disturbingly, they decided to cut out a tribute to the 7/7 victims from the Opening Ceremonies and their response is that Americans wouldn’t have been interested.

Like hell. When 7/7 hit, every blog in America put up an image of the British flag, expressed its sympathy and solidarity and wondered why the terrorists thought they were going to scared the British of all people. Granted, I move in academic circles and have a Brit in the office next to me. But I have yet to hear anyone tell me, “Boy, I’m glad they cut that 7/7 tribute out.”

With the Olympics, comes the requisite stupidity about athletes being too sexy and Americans focusing on the wrong sports. I respond to this stupidity here. And if the attention to the Michelle Jenneke video seems wrong, read this.

Apparently, Aaron Sorkin’s newest TV show is horrid — even preachier than The West Wing. Cato breaks down the latest stupidity on Glass-Steagel but check out the video clip. This is just horrible television.

The New York Times ran an op-ed this week asking if we should ditch algebra. I’ll let Orac handle this one. Really, the stupidity of the op-ed has to be read to be believed. It’s from a Poli-Sci professor which tells you, really, all you need to know about why our political system sucks.

Stinging the Stingers

You know that scene in every mediocre spy movie where the surveillance team finally busts the bad guys only to find out the bad guys were really a surveillance team for another agency? Yeah, that just happened:

He saw something. He said something. And he inadvertently uncovered a secret spying operation that the New York Police Department was running outside its jurisdiction.

In June 2009, a building superintendent at an apartment complex near the Rutgers University campus opened the door to unit 1076 to conduct an inspection. Tenants had been notified of the inspection weeks ago and the notice was still stuck to the door.

He turned his key, walked in and immediately knew something was wrong. A colleague called 911.

The caller, Salil Sheth, and his colleagues had stumbled upon one of the NYPD’s biggest secrets: a safe house, a place where undercover officers working well outside the department’s jurisdiction could lie low and coordinate surveillance.

Basically, while Mayor Bloomberg has been talking about inclusiveness and tolerance, his NYPD has been going outside New York to monitor Muslim businesses, religious organizations and people. Not people necessarily suspicious or connected with terrorist activity, mind you. Chris Christie, among others, has been critical since the NYPD doesn’t technically, you know, have authority outside their own city. And they are not, technically, supposed to be a covert anti-terrorism agency.

At the same time, Homeland Security has been telling all of us to look for Islamists under our beds (and sometimes in them). Anything suspicious is supposed to be reported. The logic is that a million false calls and inconveniences are justified if it results in Homeland Security ignoring warning from the fathers of men with bombs in their underwear.

Ahem.

I’m sure various security experts will emerge from the woodwork to tell us how this proves the system is working. But we should feel relieved, really. The threat level must be pretty low if the security agencies are being reduced to catching each other.

Curious

I realize that there are higher considerations, stuff us mere mortals are not privy to and contingencies that are well beyond our pay grade, but why would a network as well respected {cough, cough} as NBC up and make a command decision to cut out a portion of the opening ceremonies and fill it with recycled crap we have heard a number of times already?

Waking up this morning and writing a comment on the blog about the opening ceremonies and my impressions, I come to find out that NBC deleted a major portion of the broadcast, a portion having to do with a dedication and song to the victims of a terrorist attack. No, not that one, this was the attack of 7/7, one that hit much closer to home for the British people:

The moving tribute to the victims of the 7/7 London bombings featured a haunting performance by singer Emeli Sande. It was one of the most powerful moments of the evening, but it never aired in the US. Watch it now. (Edit: There are some reports that it was more generally a tribute to those who had passed away before the Olympics could begin. Regardless it was cut out of the US broadcast.)

You can view the video, the portion that NBC decided to withhold from us, here.

Why would NBC up and cut this out? It certainly was not for time restraints, the damn thing (including that awful McCartney segment) lasted 4 1/2 hours. We not only got to hear yet another segment on Michael Phelps:

Regardless, it was a rather significant and emotional moment in the opening ceremony, coming just before the parade of nations—and it wasn’t aired in the United States. Instead, viewers were treated to a lengthy and meaningless Ryan Seacrest interview of Michael Phelps. NBC regularly excises small portions of the opening ceremony to make room for commercials, but we’ve never heard of them censoring out an entire performance—especially to air an inane interview. We’ve asked NBC why they didn’t air the tribute, and if they get back to us we’ll let you know what they say.

As filler, before they even started with the opening ceremonies (remember, this was taped delay, they could have started anytime they wanted) they threw in some inane banter with Tom Brokaw, along with a totally out of place segment with some of the ladies gymnastics team (as if we won’t get enough of that once the competitions start).

I genuinely would like to know why NBC decided excise this portion and not show it for us in the states.

We can talk about the appropriateness of the segment. Rogge and the IOC nixed any public display bringing attention to the Jewish athletes that were murdered at the Munich Olympics, so what about this? The Jewish athletes had a closer tie to the Olympics then the 7/7 bombings, why one without the other? For my own self, it’s their ceremony (their dime), if they wanted to call attention to the victims at this venue (recognizing that there was an Olympic connection) that’s fine with me. I wonder how Rogge rationalized this display (I assume he knew, and I assume that he has some say in the matter). Here are the BBC remarks that was aired at broadcast:

Ladies and gentlemen, please pause silent for our memorial wall for friends and family who can’t be here tonight. The excitement of that moment in Singapore seven years ago when England won the games was tempered the next day with sorrow from the events of July 7th that year. A wall of remembrance for those no longer here to share in this event.

Now that the catcensor is out of the bag, NBC will reply with some ,”Nothing to see here, move along, we do this all the time for time constraints, advertising and all”.

Maybe, but replacing it with mundane filler, rouses my suspicions.

Not only did they have a gaggle of commercials through out the night, but it seemed like one in ten were from Obama’s re election committee and how great he cares about us. Come on, can we save the pantloads for after the Olympics? I need some women’s beach volleyball.

No Dipping, Period

Olympics and politics, why are we always catching them canoodling in the back row of the theater? Just as the clothing flap is starting to die down (Chinese made uniforms with prissy French berets, maybe PETA is right, go naked next time) and the opening ceremonies fast approaching, we got one more thing to talk about:

The United States may break with a controversial tradition and dip its flag to Britain’s leaders at the opening ceremony for the London Olympics, U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) CEO Scott Blackmun said on Thursday.
“We’ve talked about that a little bit and you never know what is going to happen,” said Blackmun.
“We have traditions, Britain has traditions, everybody has traditions but we’re still talking internally but it is not an issue we see as a big issue.”
It may not be a big issue for the USOC but it is one that stirs the emotions of many Americans.

Dipping seems a bit subtle, if Obama had his way they would all be bowing {rimshot}

Look, our British brothers will understand, we don’t dip, nothing personal and if you want a reach around later we can talk about it, but the flag stays erect. You guys understand about tradition better then most (pip pip, God save the Queen, Cheerio, don’t be a wanker) and this is one of ours.

The new world order types will toss out charges of arrogance, ugly Americans thinking they are better, tut tut, that’s the way it is.

According to historians, the U.S. has not dipped the Stars and Stripes since 1908 when the Summer Games were first staged in London and shotputter Ralph Rose refused to lower the flag supposedly saying: “This flag dips for no earthly king.”

Probably more urban legion then fact but it does have a certain eqalitarian ring to it.

I’ll be watching tonight and I hope I’m not disappointed. And Mariel Zagunis is a great choice, she is awesome.

Romney Abroad

This just in: the media have flagrantly misrepresented a point Mitt Romney once made about the British Empire as an insult to Britain. I know … shocking, huh? But the stupid Chick-Fil-A story seems to have run out of steam, so we have to talk about something.

Several blogs are running basically non-stop coverage of how badly Mitt is doing in the UK. Part of that is because, well, it’s Mitt and he has a tendency to say dumb things and has no real political principles (Example: he’s promised to get the Churchill bust back. But the bust is (a) Britain’s and (b) was returned because it was specifically loaned, not given, to Bush). But Mitt would get negative coverage even if he were the world’s greatest candidate. As a Republican, the British media are predisposed not to like him. His demeanor and his words make him a perfect straight man for British humor and sarcasm. And he’s there on the eve of the olympics, when there’s a natural surge in excitement and national pride.

So ignore anything coming from the other side of the Atlantic. If Romney is elected, the Brits will find a way to work with him. I mean, for fuck’s sake, if they can work with France, they can work with anyone.

The $40 Million Albatross

I tweeted about this a couple of days ago, but the more I think about it, the more I see it as the perfect confluence of government stupidity:

Heirs to important art collections are often subject to large tax bills. In this case, the beneficiaries, Nina Sundell and Antonio Homem, have paid $471 million in federal and state estate taxes related to Mrs. Sonnabend’s roughly $1 billion art collection, which included works by Modern masters from Jasper Johns to Andy Warhol. The children have already sold off a large part of it, approximately $600 million worth, to pay the taxes they owed, according to their lawyer, Ralph E. Lerner.

I want you to stop for a moment and think about that. An art collection was busted up because of our wonderful glorious inheritance tax. Keep in mind, there are many countries — Australia, Switzerland, Canada, Sweden (!!) — that either don’t have an inheritance tax or have abolished it. As I noted in the Sunday Six-Pack thread, my Australian bankers were surprised that the US still had one.

Now that alone would make for an annoying story. But it gets better. One work is literally impossible to sell.

The object under discussion is “Canyon,” a masterwork of 20th-century art created by Robert Rauschenberg that Mrs. Sonnabend’s children inherited when she died in 2007.

Because the work, a sculptural combine, includes a stuffed bald eagle, a bird under federal protection, the heirs would be committing a felony if they ever tried to sell it. So their appraisers have valued the work at zero.

But the Internal Revenue Service takes a different view. It has appraised “Canyon” at $65 million and is demanding that the owners pay $29.2 million in taxes.

Plus $11 million in fines for trying rip the IRS off.

Look, this is not rocket science. If you literally can not sell something, the value of it is, by definition, $0. I may think my Dale Murphy baseball card is worth a million dollars. But the real value is whatever people are willing (and legally able) to pay for it. This is not a situation like, say, drug dealers, where the IRS wants a cut of an illegal activity that has already taken place. They want a cut of an activity that can never occur.

Even though they can’t legally do it, I’m hoping that the family will turn around and try to pay the tax bill by letting the IRS seize the sculpture. The resulting bureaucratic entanglement might tear a hole in the space-time continuum. But it would fun to watch the EPA and the IRS fight it out.

Let The Games Begin

For those that think the Olympics don’t start until Friday, au contraire.

Although two days until the official kick off, I’m stoked. For a quick recap of Beijing, check out attached video

There are a number of interesting Olympic stories in the news of late:

The IOC remained consistent in shrieking from any controversy by always taking the weenie way out and refused one single minute of silence in remembrance of Munich, what a bunch of pussies. But we here in the States aren’t burdened by the ruffling of feathers, so we will take matters into our own hands.

London has already taken a beating even before the games begin, both with the weather, and for the poor lack of planning wrt security, and a last minute dodge on striking public workers.

But the bad news does not stop there, now they want to take all the fun out of watching beach volleyball.

And then there is this story. As if Greece wasn’t sucky enough. I’m struggling to find the “racism” in her comments. I’ll admit that it was stupid and tasteless (those that have never done a stupid thing in their lives, raise your hands), but keeping her home? If I was a European I would not want you sharing my currency either.

A word about the host country. For my own self, I always root for the host nation in any Olympics, it’s just good manners. The Chinese did very well in Beijing and the Brits are favored to come in fourth for total medal count.

Other stories to follow. It is wicked scary how strong the Americans are in swimming and if they don’t win say 85 to 90% of all medals in this venue, it will be a disappointment. One athlete in nine (over 10%) of the American Olympians comes from the Bay Area (either born and raised here or educated here) so there are a number of locals I will be following. Back to swimming, Although Michael Phelps’ legacy is set, I’m hoping that Ryan Lochte kicks his ass in every event where they meet.

Much as been written about the new Dream Team, we’ll see.

I hope Lolo Jones can shake her demons and get her medal. The secular world has had a good laugh at her expense because she is a woman of faith and holding out for marriage, tough gal.

And lastly, can the Americans (both men and women) hold on to that frigging baton and at least finish the marquee event in all track and field, the 4 by 100 meter relay? The Jamaicans are stacked and are favored but after Beijing are sprinters need some vindication.

In 2008 I bought my big screen plasma expressly for the Olympics. Today I made a Costco run and eyed those 70 (and 80) inch behemoths with covetousness in my heart, but I walked right on by, another by product of the Obama economy.

One Punch Is Not Enough

It would be too easy to ask ,”What were they smoking?”, and for me, not quite accurate since I understood (didn’t agree but understood) all the euphoria behind BHO. Bushlash was a fairly common malady among Americans and just about any alternative would be looked at hard. But this clean articulate half black man from Chicago, all I can say is Just Wow. For those that had not being paying attention, those not aware of what he had actually done, said, and stood for (meaning most of the voters out there) it was a new dawn.

So, what level of buyer’s remorse is out there?

It was not suppose to turn out this way. For a man that had such potential, such vision, and such a bullet proof super majority in both houses, how could we be worse off then before, and $16 trillion in debt for our troubles? The “John Carter” of politics was a “wish” sandwich, a cream puff with no cream, and worse then a bounced check.

How about we let someone have a shot?