Free Markets, Free People


Tennessee heads down the proverbial slippery slope

When you see someplace begin to try to legislate feelings and intentions, well you’re looking at a place that is headed toward more and more authoritarian government.   Tennessee recently passed a law which make it a crime to post images which cause “emotional distress” without a “legitimate purpose”.

One has no idea what constitutes “emotional distress” or how one decides if the “purpose” is “legitimate”, but it certainly suggests someone will and that someone will be the state.

(a) A person commits an offense who intentionally:

(4) Communicates with another person or transmits or displays an image in a manner in which there is a reasonable expectation that the image will be viewed by the victim by [by telephone, in writing or by electronic communication] without legitimate purpose:

(A) (i) With the malicious intent to frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress; or

(ii) In a manner the defendant knows, or reasonably should know, would frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress to a similarly situated person of reasonable sensibilities; and

(B) As the result of the communication, the person is frightened, intimidated or emotionally distressed.

When you see language like you see in this law, the extent to which it can be abused and used to, ironically, “frighten, intimidate or emotionally distress” someone supposedly in violation of it are evident.

Eugene Volokh finds it to be “clearly” unconstitutional.  Here are his comments:

  1. If you’re posting a picture of someone in an embarrassing situation — not at all limited to, say, sexually themed pictures or illegally taken pictures — you’re likely a criminal unless the prosecutor, judge, or jury concludes that you had a “legitimate purpose.”
  2. Likewise, if you post an image intended to distress some religious, political, ethnic, racial, etc. group, you too can be sent to jail if governments decision maker thinks your purpose wasn’t “legitimate.” Nothing in the law requires that the picture be of the “victim,” only that it be distressing to the “victim.”
  3. The same is true even if you didn’t intend to distress those people, but reasonably should have known that the material — say, pictures of Mohammed, or blasphemous jokes about Jesus Christ, or harsh cartoon insults of some political group — would “cause emotional distress to a similarly situated person of reasonable sensibilities.”
  4. And of course the same would apply if a newspaper or TV station posts embarrassing pictures or blasphemous images on its site.

This is clearly the end-game of this pernicious trend that supports this pseudo-right we have to not be offended.  Obviously, you have no such right.  But when the state gets into this sort of territory, it is not headed toward the slippery slope, it’s bobsledding down the slope.  

This is clearly a law designed to stifle what any person of “reasonable sensibilities” would call free speech.  What most who understand the right emphasize is that its strength is in the fact that we don’t penalize those who say things we don’t like, but protect their right to do so even while we denounce what they say.

This is another of those freedoms that is constantly under assault by the authoritarians among us who, for whatever reason, think it is their job to control every aspect of our lives, to include what we can and can’t say.   So, as in the case of Tennessee, they criminalized behavior which might “frighten, intimidate or emotionally disturb”.

Really – I can think of any number of movies which do precisely that for any number of people – is Tennessee going to ban them?  Books?  Political writing (that is intended to “frighten, intimidate or emotionally disturb” readers?   If you’re from another state and you have a bumper sticker that “frightens, intimidates or emotionally distresses” someone (say an abortion sticker or one that denounces Islamists) am I subject to Tennessee’s liberty destroying law?

And how does this law coexist with our right, codified in the First Amendment, that claims we can speak freely without considering any of those concerns?

Busybody lawmakers with an authoritarian streak make bad law and shred our basic rights.  I’m sure they’d explain it as an attempt to ensure others aren’t offended.  I, on the other hand, find that sort of nonsense un-American and unconstitutional.  Repeal the law, Tennessee.  Rejoin the rest of the union and quit being so afraid of free speech.  Most of all, grow up and quit worrying about others  being offended.  That’s their problem – not the state’s.

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Twitter: @McQandO

Germany’s Chancellor Merkel has criminal complaint filed against her for bin Laden comments

The world is officially nuts.  I’m not sure how else you classify what follows.  Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany recently remarked on the death of mass murderer Osama bin Laden saying was “glad” he’d been killed.  That prompted the following from a German judge:

But Hamburg judge Heinz Uthmann went even further. He alleges that the chancellor’s statement was nothing short of illegal, and filed a criminal complaint against Merkel midweek, the daily Hamburger Morgenpost reported Friday.

"I am a law-abiding citizen and as a judge, sworn to justice and law," the 54-year-old told the paper, adding that Merkel’s words were "tacky and undignified."

In his two-page document, Uthmann, a judge for 21 years, cites section 140 of the German Criminal Code, which forbids the "rewarding and approving" of crimes. In this case, Merkel endorsed a "homicide," Uthmann claimed. The violation is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment or a fine.

"For the daughter of a Christian pastor, the comment is astonishing and at odds with the values of human dignity, charity and the rule of law," Uthmann told the newspaper.

Of course the judge is assuming it’s a “homicide” (certainly no proof exists that’s the case) and thus a criminal act.  In fact, the Geneva Conventions will clearly show otherwise.  Obviously he files his complaint with nothing more than his opinion as a basis.

So you say, it’s one extremist view, why get excited about it?

While the judge’s reaction may seem extreme, his sentiments are apparently shared by 64 percent of the German population. That was the proportion of Germans who said bin Laden’s death was "no reason to rejoice" in a poll published by broadcaster ARD on Friday.

Germany – never a bastion of human rights or individual freedoms –  continues to live up to its past with a new extremist but pacifist twist.  This is an example of absurdity masquerading as reason, extremism as normalcy and stupidity as compassion. 

Everyone who loves freedom and hates mass murderers should be “glad” Osama bin Laden has been killed.  He was a monster, just like one which once ruled the land this puffed up pratt Uthman lives in.  As much as Germans claim to have been “disgusted” with the “jubilation” over OBL’s death, nonsense like this does them no favor.  The disgust on this side of the Atlantic for a country that assaults free speech and protects the memory of a mass murderer by going after those who express satisfaction at his demise isn’t one that I or most anyone here would ever care to live in.


Twitter: @McQandO

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‘No sale’ on the ‘hateful’ rhetoric/Tucson shooting connection

According to a CBS New poll It appears the American public isn’t buying the attempt to connect what is termed “hateful” rhetoric and the Tucson shooting of Rep. Giffords:

Overall, 57 percent of respondents said the harsh political tone had nothing to do with the shooting, compared to 32 percent who felt it did. Republicans were more likely to feel the two were unrelated – 69 percent said rhetoric was not to blame; 19 percent said it played a part. Democrats were more split on the issue – 49 percent saw no connection; 42 percent said there was.

Independents more closely reflected the overall breakdown – 56 percent said rhetoric had nothing to do with the attack; 33 percent felt it did.

So a note to the left trying to make political hay with this incident – the meme is not resonating.  And, as usual, you’ve underestimated the good sense of the American people and their ability to separate political nonsense from the truth.  I think we can reasonably call the attempt to establish the “hateful rhetoric caused the shooting” a “FAIL.”


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Giffords shooting prompts proposed limits to freedom and hypocritical recriminations

Well, as you can imagine, the Giffords shooting has sucked all the oxygen out of just about every other subject. And, as you can probably further imagine, the "let’s make a law" crowd is busily at work trying to again limit our freedoms in the name of "security".

We have a representative from PA who wants to outlaw "crosshairs" in political advertising. I have to wonder what part of "Congress shall make no law" in the 1st Amendment and political speech he doesn’t understand? Perhaps the word "no" as in none, zip, zero, nada?

The typical overreaction is underway.   As is the inevitable.  Gun control pops its ugly head up again as a New York Congresswoman prepares to introduce legislation banning high-capacity ammunition clips. 

And then there’s Paul Krugman.  The historically blind and deaf Paul Krugman.  Check out these opening two paragraphs in a piece entitled “Climate of Hate”:

When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?

Put me in the latter category. I’ve had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach ever since the final stages of the 2008 campaign. I remembered the upsurge in political hatred after Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 — an upsurge that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. And you could see, just by watching the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies, that it was ready to happen again. The Department of Homeland Security reached the same conclusion: in April 2009 an internal report warned that right-wing extremism was on the rise, with a growing potential for violence.

Notice anything missing in his trip down memory lane?  Yeah, 8 years of inflammatory rhetoric and what he now labels as “hate” directed at George Bush and the right.  I’m sure you’re not surprised – this sort of memory loss is endemic on the left.  The memory hole, which they seem unable to acknowledge, is why most on the right take the likes of Paul Krugman and their hate claims with the grain of salt they deserve.  When their rhetoric was pointed out to them, their retort was “dissention is patriotism”.

Note too that the economist turned political hack continues to insist, in the face of almost conclusive evidence to the contrary, that the violence visited on Rep. Giffords was the result of the “hatred” from the right.  And he uses the discredited Southern Poverty Law Center’s report (hidden in the just as discredited Homeland Security report) as “proof” of his claims.

Krugman must have sensed he’s on thin ice because a few paragraphs in he throws this out:

It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.

Holy Mars and Venus, Batman – is this guy living on the same planet we’re living on?  Of course it can be an “isolated event” and it certainly can have nothing to do with the so-called “national climate”.  The guy was a loon.  A nutcase.  He has serious mental problems.  He’s a yahoo who became fixated on Rep. Giffords for no apparent logical reason other than she was a local politician.  Trying to warp this into something it isn’t, however, is suddenly becoming the pastime of the left.  Well, much of it anyway (there are indeed islands of sanity out there, but they’re becoming less prevalent).

Krugman then attempts to whitewash the left’s very recent past by claiming you’ll mostly hear only caustic remarks and mocking at worst. Michelle Malkin neatly disposes of that myth.

He concludes:

So will the Arizona massacre make our discourse less toxic? It’s really up to G.O.P. leaders. Will they accept the reality of what’s happening to America, and take a stand against eliminationist rhetoric? Or will they try to dismiss the massacre as the mere act of a deranged individual, and go on as before?

If Arizona promotes some real soul-searching, it could prove a turning point. If it doesn’t, Saturday’s atrocity will be just the beginning.

What then, as evidence continues to mount supporting it, if it was indeed a “mere act of a deranged individual” Mr. Krugman.  Will we get an Emily Litella like “never mind” from you?

This is the latest in a long line of efforts by the left to shut its opposition up.  Political correctness has finally begun to wear thin as most have now recognized it for what it is – an attempt to control speech.  This effort is nothing less than that.  It is the claim that speech must be modified because others who are deranged might act on it, even out of context. But that lack of memory about their own toxic speech and their spirited defense of it (again, see Malkin’s listing of the left’s happy talk about George Bush) smacks of such hypocrisy that the word is almost insufficient to define them at this point.

Freedom and democracy demand risk to work.  They must not be held prisoner to speech codes and “security”.  We must not let the priorities that underpin freedom be chipped away or removed by a bunch of scared rabbits.  If Congress wants to beef up security around its members, I can understand that.  However, that’s as far as I’m willing to go.  Restricting the freedoms of the rest of us because of some nut is just flat unacceptable.

And by the way, Mr. Krugman – go see a doctor.  I’m told the  type of memory loss you’re suffering is the first sign of senile dementia.  Have it checked out, will you?


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Nut job attempts to assassinate AZ Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

One of the reasons I find libertarianism satisfying to my inner philosophical self is it eschews and condemns the use of coercion and force.

That doesn’t make me a pacifist or someone who won’t use force defensively.  But that’s not what happened today in a Safeway parking lot in Arizona.  What happened today was cold-blooded murder of innocent bystanders and the attempted murder of a Congressional Representative.  It was an attempt to coercively change what has been decided democratically. I may not agree with Rep. Giffords or her leanings, but I will defend unto death her right to stand in any parking lot in this country and say what it is she wishes to say without some jerk shooting her.

What happened today was wrong and it should be condemned – period. No matter what the leanings or ideology of the person targeted and no matter the ideology and leanings of the fool who did this, there is no excuse for this at all.

Prepare yourself for an onslaught of the two sides attempting to find a way to work this to their advantage.  Already I’ve seen Sarah Palin blamed.  Expect all the blogospheric loons to try to torturously spin whatever is found about this asshat who shot Rep. Giffords into something that hurts the other side.  It is as predictable as night and day.  The online equivalents of the National Enquirer will do what they always do.

As for those who are going to try to proclaim this guy a hero striking a blow for freedom, you’ve got a hell of a job in front of you selling that.   He no more struck a blow for freedom than did James Earl Ray.   The guy is a coward who shoots at unarmed women and kills children.  If that’s the type of murderous clown you want to tie your revolutionary wagon too, good luck with that.

It appears Rep. Giffords has survived the surgery and doctors are very optimistic about her recovery.  That’s good news, but we all know how difficult it is to fully recover from a bad brain injury.   As for the jackwagon that shot her, there’s a maximum security prison in Colorado which has a cell with his name on it.  Put him in there and throw away the key.  Solitary confinement for the rest of his life.  Let Glenn Greenwald whine about that.

And yes, I’m pissed.


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Homeland Security’s arbitrary law enforcement

Apparently if you don’t like the law and you’re the Homeland Security Department – you know, the department charged with ensuring your safety – you can just quietly refuse to do your job.  Judicial Watch clues us in:

A month after the Department of Homeland Security launched a covert program to dismiss pending deportations there’s been an increase of more than 700% in the number of cases that have been dropped by the government in one of the nation’s busiest immigration court systems.

In August Homeland Security officials quietly began to systematically dismiss the pending removal of illegal immigrants, even when expulsion was virtually guaranteed or the aliens had a criminal record. The move, first reported by Texas’s largest newspaper, stunned the legal profession and baffled immigration attorneys who said it was “absolutely fantastic” for their illegal alien clients.

Instead of enforcing the law, they’ve decided to interpret it as they wish and to modify the criteria for expulsion to whatever they arbitrarily decide

However, EOIR’s liaison with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Raed Gonzalez, said he was briefed on the guidelines in August directly by DHS’ deputy chief counsel in Houston and described a broader set of internal criteria.

Government attorneys in Houston were instructed to exercise prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis for illegal immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for at least two years and have no serious criminal history, Gonzalez said.

To qualify for dismissal, defendants also must have no felony record or any misdemeanor convictions involving DWI, sex crimes or domestic violence, he said.

Now before some nimrod who never reads the blog beams in and claims I’m “anti-immigration”, let’s be clear.  No, I’m not.  But we have a proper and legal way of immigrating into this country and an improper and illegal way of doing so.  The government’s job is to enforce the law and its priority should be the protection of the rights of its citizens.  Decisions to arbitrarily enforce law or not enforce it at all shouldn’t be within the ability of the government’s enforcement agencies to decide.  We have a process for that – it’s called legislation. 

As I recall, law enforcement agencies require oaths of their agents to “enforce the law”.  Not to “internally” decide to modify them to suit their tastes or a political agenda.

I understand the “system” is broken.  But “clearing a backlog” by dismissing cases against law breakers on whatever grounds simply encourages more of the illegal behavior they’ve displayed.  If there’s really no risk in flaunting the law, there’s no reason not to engage in the behavior that breaks it.

Obviously the immigration system needs to be overhauled and immigration brought into the 21st century with a speedier and less costly process that better serves all. 

But that is a separate issue from the subject of this post.  It is dangerous and destructive to have government agencies who have been charged with enforcing the law to be internally deciding what if any of the law they will enforce.  It’s just another example of the government not serving the needs of those it is Constitutionally charged with protecting.  It has, however, become almost a trademark of this administration.


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Hugo Chavez wishes he had Obama’s approval numbers

That’s right – even at their lowest ebb right now, Obama’s are better numbers than Hugo has (although Harry Reid would probably kill for Hugo’s numbers):

In a survey last month, Consultores 21 found that only 36 percent of Venezuelans approved of Chavez’s performance, a seven-year low.

Any guess why? Yeah, I know, a real stumper. Let’s channel Bill Clinton’s campaign message for a minute. Ah, yes, there it is – "it’s the economy, stupid." Do you know what the Venezuelan economy looks like right now?

The Economist magazine provides statistics weekly on 57 nations, from the United States to Estonia. Its most recent report forecasts that gross domestic product in Venezuela will decline by 5.5 percent in 2010. Next worst is Greece, with a 3.9 percent decline. Greece, of course, came close to defaulting on its debt earlier this year, and analysts at Morgan Stanley worry that Venezuela is moving in the same direction.

“Our new baseline of at least three years of economic contraction suggests the risks to Venezuela’s ability to honor its international financial commitments may be on the rise,” wrote Daniel Volberg and Giuliana Pardelli in a June report, at the same time predicting that GDP will fall by 6.2 percent in 2010. “While most of Latin America, in line with the globe, has been in recovery mode since last year, Venezuela has seen an intensifying downturn in activity,” they added.

So that’s GDP, the single best measure of economic health. When it comes to inflation, no one is close to Venezuela. Consumer prices are already up 31 percent for 2010 and are expected to rise more by year-end. Only two of the remaining 56 nations monitored by the Economist are suffering double-digit inflation: India and Egypt, both with 11 percent price increases.

Venezuela’s stagflation is all the more remarkable because, as the No. 8 oil-producing nation in the world, the country should be benefiting handsomely from high oil prices.

And it most likely would be doing so if it didn’t have an idiot who thinks socialism works at the helm.

Chavez has spent a lot of time, however, consolidating the organs of government power under his control and stomping out any opposition media in an attempt to keep Venezuelans in the dark (and not just from the rolling blackouts that plague the country) as to what is happening. But economics have a way of running those sorts of blockades when the reality of them sets in on the populace:

But even a news blackout would not prevent Venezuelans from knowing firsthand what is happening to their nation’s economy. Retail sales were down 12 percent in the first half of the year; sales of food, beverages, and tobacco in specialty stores were off 30 percent. Chavez slapped on permanent exchange controls to prevent “the oligarchy from taking U.S. dollars and depositing them in banks around the world.” But like most such controls, they have only panicked investors and businesses and led to more capital flight. Figures from the Central Bank of Venezuela showed $9 billion in capital outflows in the first half of the year.

Venezuelans go to the polls tomorrow in a similar situation to the US – midterm elections and a ruling party that has proven to be inept and corrupt. It is parliament they’ll be voting for. And given the shape of the country, the censorship, inflation, crime (Caracas is more dangerous than Baghdad) and economic disaster Venezuelans have been experiencing the opposition does indeed have some "hope" for "change".

Whether Hugo actually allows that, of course, is another matter altogether.


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Damn violent right – eco-terrorism at the Discovery Channel

In this summer of heated political debate, Tea Party gatherings and Beck rallies, all with a background of the left tossing out warnings about possible right-wing violence, does it strike anyone as ironic that a militant lefty eco-whacko commits violence to further his cause?

James J. Lee, a long time protester outside the Discovery Channel building who’d been arrested and sentenced to 6 months supervised parole for an incident in March 2008, was shot by police after taking 3 hostages in the building.  He was carrying weapons and some allegedly homemade explosive devices.  It is reported one of the explosive devices detonated when he was shot.  The hostages escaped unharmed.

How far out there was this guy?  Well, human filth – because that’s what he thought of you – you may want to familiarize yourself with his demands.  Some samples:

1. The Discovery Channel and it’s affiliate channels MUST have daily television programs at prime time slots based on Daniel Quinn’s "My Ishmael" pages 207-212 where solutions to save the planet would be done in the same way as the Industrial Revolution was done, by people building on each other’s inventive ideas. Focus must be given on how people can live WITHOUT giving birth to more filthy human children since those new additions continue pollution and are pollution. A game show format contest would be in order. Perhaps also forums of leading scientists who understand and agree with the Malthus-Darwin science and the problem of human overpopulation. Do both. Do all until something WORKS and the natural world starts improving and human civilization building STOPS and is reversed! MAKE IT INTERESTING SO PEOPLE WATCH AND APPLY SOLUTIONS!!!!

2. All programs on Discovery Health-TLC must stop encouraging the birth of any more parasitic human infants and the false heroics behind those actions. In those programs’ places, programs encouraging human sterilization and infertility must be pushed. All former pro-birth programs must now push in the direction of stopping human birth, not encouraging it.

So when you go home and hug your filthy and parasitic human children tonight, remember that Mr. Lee would as soon bury them as anything. After all, it’s all about the "wildlife".

Lee on civilization and morality:

4. Civilization must be exposed for the filth it is. That, and all its disgusting religious-cultural roots and greed. Broadcast this message until the pollution in the planet is reversed and the human population goes down! This is your obligation. If you think it isn’t, then get hell off the planet! Breathe Oil! It is the moral obligation of everyone living otherwise what good are they?? Apparently no good at all. Notice the implication of violence unless "the pollution on the planet is reversed". It’s your moral obligation.

The man holding hostages at gunpoint and threatening them with harm is spouting off about “moral obligations”?  A bit like the Obama’s calling for shared sacrifice over a lobster dinner while vacationing on Martha’s Vinyard.

As for immigration, Mr. Lee advances a new name for "anchor babies" – "pollution babies", because, you know, that’s all babies do – pollute:

5. Immigration: Programs must be developed to find solutions to stopping ALL immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that. Find solutions to stopping it. Call for people in the world to develop solutions to stop it completely and permanently. Find solutions FOR these countries so they stop sending their breeding populations to the US and the world to seek jobs and therefore breed more unwanted pollution babies. FIND SOLUTIONS FOR THEM TO STOP THEIR HUMAN GROWTH AND THE EXPORTATION OF THAT DISGUSTING FILTH! (The first world is feeding the population growth of the Third World and those human families are going to where the food is! They must stop procreating new humans looking for nonexistant jobs!)

And "global warming"?

6. Find solutions for Global Warming, Automotive pollution, International Trade, factory pollution, and the whole blasted human economy. Find ways so that people don’t build more housing pollution which destroys the environment to make way for more human filth! Find solutions so that people stop breeding as well as stopping using Oil in order to REVERSE Global warming and the destruction of the planet!

Lee wanted the Discovery Channel to air programs that supported his agenda. In a nutshell, it was eliminate humans via dismantling their economies and discouraging birth of more "filth". Strangely he opposed war which has successfully removed many humans over the last century or so. He apparently prefered disease and famine do the job.


Humans are the most destructive, filthy, pollutive creatures around and are wrecking what’s left of the planet with their false morals and breeding culture. For every human born, ACRES of wildlife forests must be turned into farmland in order to feed that new addition over the course of 60 to 100 YEARS of that new human’s lifespan! THIS IS AT THE EXPENSE OF THE FOREST CREATURES!!!! All human procreation and farming must cease! It is the responsiblity of everyone to preserve the planet they live on by not breeding any more children who will continue their filthy practices.

Children represent FUTURE catastrophic pollution whereas their parents are current pollution. NO MORE BABIES! Population growth is a real crisis. Even one child born in the US will use 30 to a thousand times more resources than a Third World child. It’s like a couple are having 30 babies even though it’s just one! If the US goes in this direction maybe other countries will too!

There you go – I looked, but couldn’t find anything that blamed Bush, but I’m sure it’s buried in there somewhere. Instead, the blame belongs to another:

Lee said at the time that he experienced an ‘‘awakening” when he watched former Vice President Al Gore’s environmental documentary ‘‘An Inconvenient Truth.”

Another in a long line of lefty whack jobs who haven’t figured out that humans too are a natural part of this earth.

No one questions the need for good stewardship of the earth and its resources. However, eco-terrorists like this don’t find our attempts sufficient or worthy. In fact many don’t find us – human beings – worthy of further survival. It’s hard to imagine where they think they would fit in this brave new world (other than ridding it of the rest of us).

This isn’t something new, just something that has risen high enough to catch our attention for a day or two. Eco-terrorism has been an ongoing problem for quite some time.  At the extremes of the eco movement are any number of James J. Lees who would, if given the opportunity and the power, remove all humans and their “filthy children” from this earth.

And it is my contention that they’re a bigger threat for violence than any “right-wing militia” out there.  I wonder what the Southern Poverty Law Center and Janet Napolitano will have to say about this?


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It is safer in Baghdad than Caracas

That socialist paradise created by Hugo Chavez has a new failure to add to its long list of failures – the failure of the government to provide the population with protection and security. Venezuela has become the murder capital of the world:

In Iraq, a country with about the same population as Venezuela, there were 4,644 civilian deaths from violence in 2009, according to Iraq Body Count; in Venezuela that year, the number of murders climbed above 16,000.

Pretty convincing numbers if you ask me. Iraq is war torn and has car bombs going off all over the place and yet there were almost 4 times the deaths in Venezuela the same year.  When you look at the numbers over the whole of Chavez’s rule, they’re mind boggling:

Venezuela is struggling with a decade-long surge in homicides, with about 118,541 since President Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a group that compiles figures based on police files. (The government has stopped publicly releasing its own detailed homicide statistics, but has not disputed the group’s numbers, and news reports citing unreleased government figures suggest human rights groups may actually be undercounting murders).

There have been 43,792 homicides in Venezuela since 2007, according to the violence observatory, compared with about 28,000 deaths from drug-related violence in Mexico since that country’s assault on cartels began in late 2006.

Imagine that – we know a drug war is being waged in Mexico and we know the level of violence it has spawned, especially near the border.   Venezuela has suffered almost twice the number of deaths as have occurred in the Mexican battle with the drug cartels.

In fact, the homicide numbers look more like those you’d find in a war.  It points to a system that is either badly broken, turning a blind eye or incompetent – or perhaps a bit of all three.

More than 90 percent of murders go unsolved, without a single arrest, Mr. Briceño-León said. But cases against Mr. Chavez’s critics — including judges, dissident generals and media executives — are increasingly common.

Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda, a state encompassing parts of Caracas, told reporters last week that Mr. Chávez had worsened the homicide problem by cutting money for state and city governments led by political opponents and then removing thousands of guns from their police forces after losing regional elections.

Chavez has spent years wooing the poor as potent electoral allies in his bid to remain in power:

During his 11 years in power, Chávez has cast himself as their champion. He often takes to the airwaves to tell Venezuela’s most humble that “no one loves you like I do” and warn them about being shunted aside by the “squalid bourgeoisie” if he ever loses power.

The government has plowed millions into healthcare, education and subsidies. According to the United Nations, Venezuela is a regional leader in reducing the income-gap between the rich and poor.

But other parts of the economy are stumbling badly, making even some of his most loyal supporters grumble.

In 2010, this oil-rich country will join earthquake shattered Haiti as the only economy in the Americas that will see its gross domestic product shrink; inflation — expected to exceed 30 percent this year — is eating away purchasing power; and crime is rampant.

As you can see Venezuela is also the regional leader in killing not only its citizens but its economy.  And his base is indeed grumbling:

Ana Sanchez, 54, runs a government-subsidized day care center in the Simón Rodríguez sector of Caracas. She said she hasn’t received the funds in more than six months.

In the past five years, she has been mugged three times and her family has quit getting together in the evenings for fear of crime.

“We are living through terrible times,” she said, as she looked for clothes at the market. “It didn’t have to be this way, but the whole tortilla got turned.”

The change is not sudden. For the last two years Chávez has seen his popularity slide, said Saul Cabrera of the Consultores 21 polling firm. The latest polls show just 36 percent of Venezuelans approve of the president’s performance — the lowest figure since 2003, when Chávez survived a strike that decimated the economy.

A poll by Hinterlaces shows similar results — 65 percent of the population thinks the country is headed the wrong direction. But dissatisfaction does not always translate into votes, said Oscar Schemel of Hinterlaces.

The opposition has failed to inspire the poor or provide a coherent or “believable” proposal, he said.

The opposition there sounds like the GOP here.  And the fact that Chavez has actively shut down opposition press.  But there are cracks showing up in the foundation of Chavez’s support:

But even in the 23 de Enero neighborhood, there are signs that Chávez’s support is cracking, said Manuel Mir, the neighborhood campaign coordinator of the Un Nuevo Tiempo opposition party.

In the past, neighbors have torn down campaign tents, threatened opposition candidates and intimidated supporters, he said. During regional elections in 2008, the party had to hold its meetings outside of the area for fear of reprisals.

Now, they are meeting inside the community, he said. People are opening their doors for opposition candidates.

“This time a lot of people are dissatisfied. There are problems with basic public services and crime,” Mir said. “People think now may be the time for a change.”

Sounds like Venezuelans are wanting real change as much as many Americans.  But Chavez runs the electoral process, pretty much owns parliament, and has stuffed the courts with his supporters.  Pushing him out of power is not going to be an easy thing.  But as the situation continues to deteriorate, and even his base of power begins to notice, he may find it very difficult to hang on.  Unfortunately, having watched Chavez over the years, my guess is he’ll end up being carried out of office feet first rather than willingly giving it up. 


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SCOTUS – Miranda means you have to say "yes" to silence

The Supreme Court decided yesterday, in a narrow vote, that if you want to remain silent – and stop police from peppering you with questions – you have to say you wish to remain silent (and thereby legally end the police questioning).

Our newest Supreme Court Justice, Sotomeyer, dissented saying this ruling “turns Miranda upside down.”

“Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent — which counterintuitively requires them to speak,” she said. “At the same time, suspects will be legally presumed to have waived their rights even if they have given no clear expression of their intent to do so. Those results, in my view, find no basis in Miranda or our subsequent cases and are inconsistent with the fair-trial principles on which those precedents are grounded.”

That’s what happens when the word “right” is thrown around haphazardly as it is in today’s culture. What Sotomeyer is attempting to do (and what the court has done in the past) is imbue a legal privilege with the mantle of “right”. Telling someone they have the option of remaining silent has nothing to do with a right. It is a privilege our legal system has granted to those who’ve been arrested so they won’t incriminate themselves mistakenly.

There’s nothing wrong with requiring an acknowledgement that they wish to invoke the privilege of silence. There is likewise nothing wrong with assuming they aren’t invoking it by their silence. They must speak when they’re asked if they understand the Miranda warning, and they must speak to acknowledge their desire for a lawyer. There’s certainly nothing wrong with speaking to say you are invoking the legal privilege of silence.

It’s an “opt in” situation (just as speaking up for a lawyer). Otherwise, police are free to assume that privilege isn’t being used and can continue to try to question the suspect.

I see no right – in real terms – violated by this ruling. And I assume that the Miranda warning will be modified to say that the person arrested must clearly state they choose to be silent and that will be recorded or attested too. The simplest way is verbally followed up by a standard form invoking the privilege and signed by the defendant. I don’t see a problem there.

BTW, Elaina Kagen, now a SCOTUS nominee, had this to say about the case to the court as solicitor general:

“An unambiguous-invocation requirement for the right to remain silent and terminate questioning strikes the appropriate balance between protecting the suspect’s rights and permitting valuable police investigation.”

I agree.


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