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Archive for November, 2010

The newspaper stories coming out of Canada in the past couple of weeks have not been kind to freedom. They could have just as easily come from the U.S. or any other Western country, but they happened to come out of Canada this time, so I’m going to do a mini-link roundup, just for Canada.

  • Headline: “Why do we still subsidize care for the well-to-do?” It is every bit as stupid as it sounds. This dough-faced old socialist wants to make sure that the people who pay the highest taxes don’t get the same healthcare as everyone else by means-testing them. Look, I don’t like government healthcare one bit. But if you made me pay a damn fine chunk of change into the system and then told me I wouldn’t get to enjoy the benefits of it because I was rich, I would surely burst into flames of rage. You already soaked the rich once to get your system, soaking them again to prop it up just makes the crime worse.
  • Welcome to Kelowna, B.C., a beautiful city in the heart of the Okanagan…and now home to a waste collection policy even more draconian than the one infamously employed in Cleveland. They have installed cameras and scanners on their garbage trucks to make sure everyone is being an obedient little serf and sorting his or her garbage properly. See if this sentence scares you: “And while miscreant residents won’t face fines, they can expect a visit from the garbage police, who will offer friendly guidance on separating paper and plastic.” Or how about this one: ‘The on-board cameras’ image resolution “isn’t high enough to look at detailed information,’ he said.” Oh, sort of like how the nude scanners can’t save images? Not only is Kelowna’s program a horrifying little exercise in the slippery slope of personal liberties, but also it completely fails to make sense in the midst of a recession.
  • Headline says it all: “Sorry if progress is hurting the bottom line.” The “progress” they are talking about is the yet-more draconian DUI laws adopted in B.C. In addition to the full DUI awarded at a BAC of .08, cops in B.C. can now give you a mini-DUI at .05, such that you receive a warning point, a 24-hour suspension, and a bill for towing your car. Naturally, people are scared of getting in trouble, such that bar sales may be down as much as 25%. There is nothing that low-margin businesses like more than losing business in a recession! But hey, you silly business owners, you need to shut your damn mouths and salute the flag so we can have some progress around here! I mean, the politicians need to look tough on crime. Screw you for wanting to eat, you obstructionists!!
  • Meet Michael Schmidt, Canada’s leading raw milk advocate and the founder of Cow Share Canada. Fresh off a victory in Ontario, Schmidt is expanding his efforts across the country. The thing I love about this story is that he goes to help some raw milk farmers in Alberta, but leaves as soon as he decides their cleanliness isn’t up to his standards. Huh, what do you know, maybe individual actors can responsibly regulate themselves without the coercive intervention of the state and its cartel buddies!
  • Some idiot who used to work at a vegetarian fashion house in Montreal called Matt & Nat is complaining that the company violated her rights by not allowing employees to eat meat on site. You violent little fool, no one made you work there! If your bacon sandwich is so damn important, find another job! Or just leave the office and eat at a restaurant or in a park, geez! I can’t believe people really think they are important enough to potentially ruin the livelihood of someone else just because they had their feelings hurt. What a doltish thug.
  • Headline: “Canada’s culture can still make its mark on the internet.” Ah, and what intrepid ideas does this editorial offer? Why, by using the Canadian Media Fund to subsidize internet content providers and helping them establish intellectual property rights! Or by using money stolen from taxpayers to achieve the logistically impossible goal of supplying universal broadband access in the second-largest country on earth! It pains me to think that multiple people were paid to come up with this drivel. Do they honestly think the internet needs state support to succeed? Even though it has succeeded in spite of it for the past 20 years? The blind faith in the state baffles me.
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Let’s get some things straight.

1. If you go to an airport, there is a good chance you will be asked to told to go through a new full body scanner. There is an equally good chance that you will not be told the machine you are being asked to enter is a full body scanner.

2. The new full body scanners shoot a somewhat-obscured vision of your nude body, which is then transmitted to a TSA goon in a remote room who determines if you are a terrorist or not.

3. The radiation load these scanners hit your body with is a subject of discussion, but some respected scientists are saying it simply isn’t safe (PDF).

4. You always have the right to opt of a scan. Just say that you want to opt out. Presumably the TSA will try to embarrass you by screaming “Opt out!” and then subjecting you to a public patdown.

5. The patdown will be disgusting. They have been instructed to grope your body up to and including your groin. But this momentary humiliation and violation of your rights is far preferable to taking a shot of radiation and/or giving them a naked shot of your body that may not be deleted, as they claim.

Tl;dr–ALWAYS opt out of the scanner and take the patdown.

Ok, now let’s elaborate the case a bit. The first incident to really gain infamy under the new regime involved Free Stater Meg McLain, who was allegedly handcuffed and had her ticket destroyed at a Florida airport just for asking questions about the process. Though some details of her story were later discovered to be less serious than they first appeared, her case is illustrative of one potential danger of the system. McLain is an attractive woman who was in part upset because she thought she was singled out for scanning because of her attractiveness. Even if she was not, it is easy to see how, in the airports still selecting passengers randomly for backscatter screening, the TSA could “randomly” select attractive people for their own perverse thrills.

Then there was the sad, sad, sad case of a 3-year-old girl reduced to screaming and tears by one of the new-style patdowns. Yes, a 3-year-old potential “terrorist.” I have seen a bunch of people on a bunch of blogs say it, but imagine how hard it must be for a parent to explain to their kids that it is never ok for a stranger to touch you, unless they are a costume-wearing bully with a badge at an airport. Then they can touch your private parts all they want, kids! Just sickening.

Now, one of the most famous claims made by the naked scanner advocates is that the nude images are immediately deleted upon the TSA screener deciding you are not a terrorist. As with so many government claims, Gizmodo discovered this is just not true (H/T: LewRockwell.com). It seems that the thugs operating the millimeter wave naked scanners at a federal courthouse in Orlando managed to save 35,000 images. If they were doing it there, they will do it elsewhere if they haven’t already. And once they start saving the images, it doesn’t really matter whether some pervy TSA goon is adding them to his porn collection or the government is constructing a database of biometric images, the reality is that your rights will be violated.

But people are already fighting back. Ron Paul has introduced the American Traveler Dignity Act to Congress (H/T: Jesse Walker at Reason). This bill would basically classify the new TSA screenings as sexual misconduct. I normally have no use for Congress,  but this sort of defensive legislation is potentially nice, though it surely won’t pass. Matt Kernan, an average guy from my hometown of Cincinnati, refused to submit to the completely ludicrous idea of a backscatter scanning on his way out of the airport after an international flight and, after 2.5 hours, beat the TSA and got to leave without one.

And most importantly, tomorrow–or what may already  be “today” for some of you–will be Wednesday, November 24: National Opt-Out Day. Fliers and non-fliers alike will congregate at airports to protest against the new measures by opting out of the scans en masse and taking patdowns. Hopefully it will both snarl the TSA apparatus and show to the uninformed members of the public that you actually do have a right to opt out. I’m going to be part of the protest here in Seattle. Both tomorrow and beyond, be sure to check out WeWontFly.com, a clearinghouse for information about the scanners and how to resist.

So, whatever you do, do not go through the scanners. Take your patdown for the moment, ask the screener how it feels to be a fascist who sexually assaults children, and then continue to speak out against the TSA every chance you get. They may have pushed too far on this one. We won’t be able to get the feds to unspend the billions they spent on former DHS secretary Michael Chertoff’s nude scanners, but at least we can get them out of our airports and away from our bodies.

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It seems like China has an amazing ability to get its own post each time I do an update. With a country that large run by a dictatorial regime so inhumane and evil, I guess I should not be surprised. And rest assured, there are no human interest stories this time, either.

First let me tell you to never forget the words “My father is Li Gang!” This phrase has apparently become popular in China after the drunken son of a police bureaucrat killed a university student with his car and then threatened security guards on the scene with his father’s name. Her name was Chen Xiaofeng. His, Li Qiming. The state tried to ignore the case at first. Once public outcry got loud enough, they made a show of arresting Li. But the satires and subversive art continued unabated, so eventually they ratcheted up the Great Firewall and disappeared the story from the internet.

These Chinese fascists are foolish to think they can do this any longer. Just like with their attempted suppression of Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel victory, they have failed to defeat the communicative power of the internet, as they necessarily must do. It is too big, too dynamic, and too popular for them to defeat it. So please, enjoy feeling like you still have power over the internet for a bit longer. Savor it. But people like you are becoming irrelevant–you can only stomp on the Chinese people for so much longer before they will stomp on you and grind your stupid, murderous regime into dust.

In other Chinese news, the regime pushed forward with the trial of dissident artist Wu Yuren, who they claim beat up some cops. Given that his friend was in the next room and heard Wu screaming, given that Wu had recently engaged in two embarrassing public protests, and given that he had signed Liu Xiaobo’s Charter 08, I’m inclined to believe his story. Oh, and there’s also the fact that the people on the other side are a bunch of bloodthirsty thugs who would kill a peasant for a dollar. Nonetheless, Wu remains on trial, facing up to three years in jail. Not content with that case, the Chinese state also decided to ban human rights advocates Mo Shaoping and He Weifang from traveling. Stated reason: “endangering national security.” Likely reason: they had been invited to pick up Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel.

So let’s close things out with a trip to every modern authoritarian regime’s favorite place for dealing with dissidents, punitive psychiatric hospitals! Once deployed to deadly effect in the Soviet psikhushki, punitive psychiatry lives on in China. The NYT illustrated the system powerfully by focusing on the story of Xu Lindong, a perfectly sane farmer who spent six years in punitive psychiatric care just because he was persistent in helping an illiterate neighbor petition for a strip of land she believed was hers. Xu was inconvenient to the state agenda, so they locked him up for six years and electroshocked him 54 times. He has now emerged from the hospital, mentally and physically shattered. The people who did this to him–from the authorities who recommended he be arrested to the doctors who “diagnosed” him to the guards who kept him locked in to the technicians who shocked him–all deserve to burn in the hottest fires of hell. How many men like Xu never made it out of the hospitals after killing themselves or dying? How many emerged too insane to say anything?

But what the NYT has in illustrative power, it lacks in balls. They never really call the Chinese authorities out for being the bunch of inhumane scumbags that they are. So this is where the South China Morning Post comes to the rescue, calling Chinese psychiatry a “weapon” and directly making the Soviet comparison, along with providing other examples, like the mother Wang Jingmei who was locked up in psychiatric care lest she testify that her murderer son was insane. Or the engineer Ran Guizhen, who would not retire as scheduled and was forcibly retired to a psychiatric hospital where he eventually died.

So what can you do to fight the Chinese dictatorship? For one thing, don’t be a useful idiot. Never say something like “If only we could be more like China.” Never talk about how impressive their economy is. Never even visit there unless you have to. And when you hear a useful idiot spouting lies, shout them down. The revolution that will some day come in China is not the fight of the West, but that doesn’t mean we should not add our voices to the cries of the repressed people there, agitating against their awful government. Add our voices to the cacophony, yes, and hope for the day in which today’s butchers will be tomorrow’s ground beef.

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The National Post recently had two good articles on what are called “equalization payments” in Canada. Basically, ever year, the wealthy Western provinces like British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and especially Alberta transfer wealth to the federal authorities, who then redistribute it to have-nots in the East. The worst culprit this year is capitalism-bashing Quebec, which will receive more than $8.5 billion from “greedy” Western oil and timber barons.

The whole system is quite distasteful–to think that people in one part of the country have some claim to the wealth of people in another part of the country. If Quebecers want a slice of Alberta’s pie, then maybe they should move to Alberta. But it is unsurprising in our world of nationalism. Rather than let Quebec go, federal governments have bought them off with equalization payments and allowed them to get by with unsustainable fiscal policies. Rather than respect federalism and let people in Alberta and B.C. keep their money, federal governments act as if they are somehow entitled to arbitrarily redistribute it.

The first article I read was about how equalization payments come not just in the form of direct transfers,  but also much higher rates of federal employment in the have-not provinces. Personally, I think Alberta should feel lucky to have fewer bloodsuckers per capita running around than those on Prince Edward Island, but that’s just me. In any case, this article got my long-established anti-equalization hackles up.

But the second article sort of knocked me back on my feet. Canada’s Atlantic provinces have often benefited from equalization payments, leading Canadians elsewhere to look down on them a bit. And I would have continued to do so myself if not for this article which pointed out that Atlantic Canada had a vibrant trading relationship with the Eastern United States until the mid-19th century, when protectionist industrialists in Ontario and Quebec ganged up on them and obstructed trade with the U.S.

So yes, the equalization payments of today are a gross demonstration of the idea that some people have a claim on the wealth of others just because they happen to live inside the same imagined borders. But the equalization payments of today might not have been necessary if state-allied business owners of a century and a half ago had not used government’s coercive force to protect their interests and crush the productivity of others. Both in the 19th century and the 21st, the state is picking sides and messing things up. As the equalization fatcats in Quebec would say, plus ca change

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It’s been a few months now since Yuri Luzhkov, the gay-bashing, Ukraine-baiting, environment-hating corrupt loser who had been Moscow’s mayor since 1992, was sacked. He was quickly replaced by an undistinguished Kremlin apparatchik called Sergei Sobyanin. Sobyanin took one of his first independent strides last week when he decided to close down and cart off a huge number of Moscow’s small galaxy of street kiosks. Apparently, he visited a metro station and decided that kiosks were blocking his view of a monument. So with the stroke of a pen, this functionary of the supposedly democratic Russian state took the sort of anti-human authoritarian destructive action his forebears have been taking for centuries, just that they were more open in their intentions as they styled themselves monarchists and communists.

It was a happy day for me when I read just a few days later that some of the kiosk owners had protested and upon further examination, it turned out that Sobyanin’s suggested interpretation of the law was far too broad, so the kiosks will be allowed to return.

This happiness was short-lived, though. What of the vendors who had their kiosks torn down and carted off? What of the vendors who lost a few days of prime business as the holidays approach? And what of the reality that it will be incredibly easy for the apparatchiki running Moscow to draft a new, properly extensive version of this law and ban the kiosks again in a matter of days or months?

These kiosks were causing no one any harm. They were on public property. As our reader Joe pointed out in response to the Fred Phelps controversy, this is one of the reasons why it would be nice to get rid of public property–so that private property owners would have full control over what and who to allow to use their land. But in the conditions  in which we live, these people were just trying to eke out a living and the state came in and crushed them just so they could have a better view of a monument.

And if you think this is a Russian phenomenon, I would just like to ask you to explain eminent domain to me.

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Well, it’s been too long again, dear readers. I return to coverage with another large accumulation of internet curiosities to share with you.

  • Glenn Greenwald: Meet Jacob Appelbaum, the Free Bradley Manning advocate who was stopped at customs on his return from Mexico and had all of his electronics confiscated. He wouldn’t give up the encryption keys, but the bottom line is that thousands of dollars in property have not been returned to him in more than four months. All because he visited Bradley Manning in jail. But hey, this isn’t a police state, guys!
  • The Vienna Review: Vienna’s famous and beloved coffee shops are under assault thanks to Austria’s adherence to EU-wide anti-smoking directives. Fascism is worse on national level than a local level, worse on a transnational level than a national level, and worst on a global level. We’re already to the transnational point. How long until we reach the global one? It is repulsive to see private property owners told how they can define owner-client relationships based on mutual consent, but even more sickening when it involves beloved cultural institutions.
  • Jacob Sullum at Reason: The FDA is proposing to mandate the addition of graphic illustrations of cancer patients to cigarette packaging. Burn in hell, you losers! Even if you hate smoking, you should hate even more the spectacle of a bunch of useless bureaucrats trying to make themselves relevant by thinking up new ways to punish private corporations that sell products to adults.
  • Via LewRockwell.com, Orlando Sentinel: It’s an old story at this point, but Orlando cops decided to “protect and serve” by arresting barbers at unlicensed shops. In one case, 14 armed thugs raided one shop. Does that make you feel tough, you bullies? They arrested 37 barbers in all. I guess it is nice that the state decided to be so blatant in playing their role in their symbiotic relationship with the licensed barber cartel.
  • NYT: God, I wish this was a joke–Britain is now going to require the recording of all conversations conducted on the work cellphones of investment bankers and traders. This is like if the Stasi moved to modern-day Britain and wanted to monitor phone calls, but they were too lazy so they subcontracted the work out to the employers of the relevant people. Predictably, people aren’t up in arms because they hate bankers that much. The bad news is this is a gross extension of the surveillance state. The good news is that it will be laughably easy to circumvent. Stupid statists, always a step too slow.
  • NYT: A Michigan town is seeking donations to its budget from non-profits in its jurisdiction. I like that they are at least not being coercive about it, but here’s a better idea for how to balance your city  budget: fire people! Lots of them. In fact, fire all of them.
  • Via Andrew Sullivan, StopTheDrugWar.org: A couple had their newborn taken away by protective services goons for five days because the mother submitted a positive drug test. A lot of people are angry because she tested positive due to a poppy seed bagel. I’m angry that mothers are getting children taking away for drug test results at all! Do you really think smoking a bowl makes someone a bad parent? If yes, this is the wrong blog for you.
  • NYT: I didn’t even read this story about NATO deciding to extend their stay in Afghanistan until at least 2014. I began seething as soon as I saw the photo of a beaming Karzai sitting across a table from the gleeful warmongers Obama and Petraeus. Of course Karzai is smiling! He is now guaranteed four more years as the mayor of Kabul, four more years of secret cash from Iran, four more years of secret cash being stored in Dubai, four more years of protection for his dope-baron half-brother in Kandahar. And for Obama and Petraeus, well, they get to continue to see American teenagers killed and killing innocents in a foreign land. What could make an imperialist happier?
  • William Grigg: Grigg always does the best police brutality write-ups–“the city’s most violent street gang —  the El Paso Police Department.” In this case, an El Paso cop, sirens off, cut off a man who wrecked his motorcycle into him. The man was grievously injured and also got charged with evading arrest. The cop served a brief paid administrative leave and is now up for promotion. It’s their country, we just live in it.
  • The Globe & Mail: Poor Canadian PM Stephen Harper said he “didn’t really want to do it, but felt compelled to bend” and keep Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan beyond his original deadline. Poor Steve! This spineless coward should be embarrassed to even spout such intelligence-insulting muck. What we are doing in Afghanistan is wrong. Shame on Harper for going along with it, whether it’s because he’s a lapdog of American imperialism or because he wanted to coopt soft imperialist liberal interventionist Michael Ignatieff’s position.
  • The Globe & Mail: Canadian resident Saeed Malekpour is being held on a death sentence in Iran…for allegedly running a porn site. “Allegedly” is key–his confession was coerced. He’s already been in jail since October 2008. He could yet be killed for something that, at worst, was an expression of free speech and, at best, he didn’t even do.
  • NYT: Briton Paul Chambers was found guilty of causing a “menace” and fined $4,800 for a joke he made on Twitter. He made the mistake of joking about bombing an airport. That might be a stupid thing to do, but it’s an expression of free speech that only a bunch of terrorist-obsessed loony tunes like the Anglo-American governments would bother to violate. And don’t even think of mentioning Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. or I might vomit.
  • St. Petersburg Times: In late summer, Russia banned the once-ubiquitous currency exchange booths. It made me angry at the time, so I am glad to see that the entrepreneurs behind the booths basically just found a loophole and spit in the state’s eye. Good for them!
  • Der Spiegel: Earlier reports were that Namibian airport officials had found a luggage bomb sent from Germany. Nope! Turns out that it was one of the state’s own test bombs. Part of me wants to laugh at the ineptitude of these fools, but a much larger part of me is angry because I know that it was the first headline that mattered, not the later correction. People have been scared again, lost rights will probably follow.
  • Jacob Sullum at Reason: My new home state of Washington banned the caffeinated beer drink Four Loko recently. Basically, some kids got sick at a party and annoying public health bullies talked about how dangerous the drink was, so now an entire state of people won’t have the option of buying this beverage because three old hags on our state’s Liquor Control Board decided it was dangerous. I hate these kneejerkers who just think they are giving the people what they want. Stand up for freedom, you scum!
  • Pat Buchanan: Taking on Helicopter Ben’s massive campaign of inflation Quantitative Easing II. It’s too bad Buchanan quotes Sarah Palin, but he did have this one really great section–

    But “sit on cash” is a definition of saving. Is saving bad? Once, Americans were taught that saving was a good thing.

    Not to Krugman. He wants to panic the public into believing the money they have put into savings accounts and CDs will be rapidly eaten up by Fed-created inflation, so they will run out and spend that money now to get the economy moving again.

    Whatever the economics of this, the morality of it is appalling.

  • Glenn Greenwald: Vintage Greenwald–if giving terrorists civilian trials was about restoring the Constitution and getting rid of the Bush legacy, does Obama’s recent decision to put off indefinitely Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s civilian trial mean he is violating the Constitution? It’s pretty appalling to see how the Left went from being totally anti-torture under Bush to pro-torture, pro-naked scanners, pro-everything under Obama. This isn’t a partisan issue.
  • St. Petersburg Times: Just ignore the title (“Russia Could Have Been China”–like being a corporate fascist state would be a good thing) and this is a great piece. It’s a debunking of all the people who say dumb things like, “Oh, what Stalin did was horrible, but it was the only way to get Russia over the hump and into modernity.” Did Stalin kill a ton of slave laborers in building things like the Moscow Metro, the dam at Dnipropetrovsk, and the Belomorkanal? Yeah, and those things did get built. But was that the only way they could have been built? Hell no. Late imperial Russia was actually one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

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I wonder what Glenn Greenwald would have turned out like in a different era. In this present era of surveillance, secrecy, war, and trampled civil rights, it’s like he is pathologically incapable of doing anything but speaking truth to power. He is one of the few people on the left to keep up the anti-torture, anti-war, anti-Patriot Act drumbeat that was so intense under Bush but immediately was silenced under Obama. He routinely spits in the eye of some of the most august publications we have, like The NYT. I. Love. Glenn. Greenwald.

Last week, he had three great columns in a row on the shambolic coverage that the American media gave to the WikiLeaks Iraq release. The Afghanistan one didn’t go so hot for the propagandists at the Pentagon. This time around, they had plenty of time to lean on their sycophants at the NYT and elsewhere. They got more subservient coverage and even an assault on Julian Assange in return.

When the documents dropped in the NYT and got pretty crappy coverage, they also included a hit piece on Julian Assange. Greenwald lost it. At first, I wasn’t inclined to agree with him. Assange is a public figure. If a paper wants to run a hit piece on him, fine, let them.

But Greenwald won me over. The thing is, this media, our media, doesn’t do hit pieces anymore. Look at this NYT piece and how they smeared Assange with unsubstantiated crap from unreliable sources. Look at how his character is impugned. They don’t do this to establishment hacks. Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that the slimeball John Burns who wrote it criticized Rolling Stone freelancer Michael Hastings for his brave takedown of Stan McChrystal.

The next day, Greenwald did an unfortunately hilarious headline comparison for the WikiLeaks story from major news outlets. Nearly everyone emphasized Iraqi abuses we ignored. It was only the NYT that licked the regime’s boots and wrote “Detainees Fared Worse in Iraqi Hands.” Spinelessness. Wretch.

The third piece is a bit too long to be as interesting, but it’s another takedown of John Burns for his supposed fair story on Assange. I did find this line worth just about memorizing and repeating:

Of course, another major reason why these media figures are so eager to parrot the Government line — to try to destroy Assange and insist that there’s “nothing new” in these horrifying documents — is because they cheered for these wars in the first place.

Amen! I don’t think there’s a liberal bias in the American media. Sure, they might favor Democrats over Republicans, but what does that really matter when both parties love war and death? They just want a bigger helping of welfare state with their fat slice of imperialism and war.

Viva Greenwald.

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