Saturday, September 17, 2011

Governor Rick Perry SHOULD Care About Executing Innocent People
Wrongly Convicted in Texas!

In recent debates, Texas Governor Rick Perry stated he had no worries about the execution of innocent prisoners. He should have worries; it is a problem in Texas.



From the Innocence Project, which tries to reverse incorrect death penalty convictions, including an impressive list of convictions overturned because of DNA forensic evidence:

The Causes of Wrongful Conviction

As the pace of DNA exonerations has grown across the country in recent years, wrongful convictions have revealed disturbing fissures and trends in our criminal justice system. Together, these cases show us how the criminal justice system is broken – and how urgently it needs to be fixed.

We should learn from the system’s failures. In each case where DNA has proven innocence beyond doubt, an overlapping array of causes has emerged – from mistakes to misconduct to factors of race and class.

Countless cases

Those exonerated by DNA testing aren’t the only people who have been wrongfully convicted in recent decades. For every case that involves DNA, there are thousands that do not.

Only a fraction of criminal cases involve biological evidence that can be subjected to DNA testing, and even when such evidence exists, it is often lost or destroyed after a conviction. Since they don’t have access to a definitive test like DNA, many wrongfully convicted people have a slim chance of ever proving their innocence.
Common Causes

Here you will find further information about seven of the most common causes of wrongful convictions:
•Eyewitness Misidentification
•Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science
•False Confessions / Admissions
•Government Misconduct
•Informants or Snitches
•Bad Lawyering

These factors are not the only causes of wrongful conviction. Each case is unique and many include a combination of the above issues. Review our case profiles to learn how the common causes of wrongful convictions have affected real cases and how these injustices could have been prevented.

To stop these wrongful convictions from continuing, we must fix the criminal justice system. Click here to learn about Innocence Commissions, a reform that can help identify and address the fundamental flaws in the criminal justice system that lead to wrongful convictions.

The chart below represents contributing causes confirmed through Innocence Project research. Actual numbers may be higher, and other causes of wrongful convictions include government misconduct and bad lawyering.

and this, the Texas Moratorium Network, which along with the Texas Innocence Project, looks at cases where innocent people are wrongly convicted, and in some cases, executed.  There is no lack of cases where Justice appears to have gone wrong.

Do we really want a man who doesn't acknowledge forensic evidence or the possiblity of innocent people convicted as President?  There are a lot more questions here to be asked - and answered; answered more honestly and with more depth and thought than Governor Perry appears to be giving the questions.

Hey, there are four different people writing here!

I just deleted a very bizarre comment to one of Dog Gone's posts where the writer missed the fact that Dog Gone is FEMALE!

Her avatar (pictured here) should clue you in on that one.

While I use the name of a female dog, I am not female. The name comes from a few inside jokes--the primary one being that my dog is smarter than your honour student.

Dog Gone and Laci the Dog are two different people in two different places.

JadeGold and Laci can sound quite a bit alike and be as curmudgeonly, but they are also two different people.

And so is MikeB.

We are four different people in four different places.

Anyway, the comment was too bizarre to be printable. I do have to admit wanting to tell the person that was an idiotic thing to have said and that he showed himself up for being ignorant.

Accidents never happen

Katrina and The Waves - Going Down To Liverpool

I hate the Bangles' version of the song (this is the original), but the video does feature Leonard Nimoy.

Meet Eric Lynch

Liverpool historian, Eric Lynch is a former trade unionist who left school at the age of 14 and couldn’t read and write because in those days it was judged that blacks didn’t need such skills. He taught himself to read and write because he wanted to know how things came about and about Liverpool’s history: most importantly, Liverpool’s connection to the slave trade. Mr. Lynch has learned quite a bit about Liverpool’s slaving history and enjoys sharing his knowledge through city tours.

From 1700 to 1800, the town of Liverpool in northwest England was transformed from what was “not much more than a fishing village” into one of the busiest slave-trading ports on the Atlantic. Liverpool’s first slaving vessel, ironically named Blessing, set sail in 1700. In 1710 two slave ships departed from Liverpool, 24 from London and 20 from Bristol. London then declined and Bristol rose to prominence mid-century, but by 1771 Liverpool was the pre-eminent slave ship port. That year no fewer than 107 left dock on the Mersey on slaving voyages compared with 58 from London and 20 from Bristol. By the end of the 18th century, Liverpool had over 60% of the entire British trade and 40% of the entire European slave trade.

The profits from slaving could be huge: the ship Lively made a profit of 300% in 1737, although this was exceptional. Most ships could guarantee a 10% profit.

At one time, there were ten large merchant houses engaged in the slave trade and 349 smaller firms in Liverpool. Shop windows displayed shining chains and manacles, devices to force open the mouths of slaves who refused to eat, neck rings, thumb screws and other implements of torment and oppression used in the slave trade.

Not all of Liverpool’s wealth came from the slave trade, but it contributed signigicantly to the city’s prosperity. Slaving and related trades may have occupied a third and possibly a half of Liverpool’s shipping activity in the period 1750 to 1807. The wealth gained was substantial from the slave trade and made a significant contribution to economic and industrial development throughout the north-west of England and the Midlands. Slavery provided significant capital for Liverpool’s prosperity in later years making Liverpool a competitor with London for the most properous British city during the 19th Century.

Slavery was such a money spinner that merchants such as Foster Cunliffe made a fortune and served three terms as mayor of the city as well as serving as President of the Liverpool Infirmary and a sponsor of the Bluecoat School. When he wasn’t exercising his philanthropic impulses, he sent three or four ships to collect African slaves each year in the 1730s. Before his death, Foster Cunliffe had ensured his son Ellis a seat in parliament. Other families such as the Leylands, Bolds and Kennions prospered in a similar way. Livepool’s connection to slavery was so pervasive that it was discovered that Penny Lane was possibly named after James Penny, a wealthy 18th century slave ship owner and strong opponent of abolitionism in 2006 when one Liverpool Councillor proposed renaming certain streets because their names were linked to the slave trade. That discovery led to city officials deciding to forego the name change and re-evaluate the entire renaming process. On July 10, 2006, Liverpool officials said they would modify the proposal to exclude Penny Lane.

But don’t take my word for it, take Eric Lynch’s city tour.

See also:

Will the US reinstitute the Feudal System next?

Canada, the US's northern neighbour has begun to restore the Canadian head of state profile of Queen Elizabeth II, who is represented in Canada by a Governor-General, to full Canadian monarch status.

Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government, particularly the monarchist Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, have been working to restore the Queen as the de jure Head of State of Canada. The government began the process last month by restoring “royal” to the names of the Canadian navy and air force. Baird has now issued an order for all 150 Canadian diplomatic missions abroad to place a portrait of Elizabeth II in the public lobbies of the embassies and missions, alongside those of the Governor-General and Harper.

Toronto's Globe and Mail reported in its September 8 issue that some Canadian embassies balked at having a portrait of the Queen in their lobbies. The article did not specify which embassies were the hold-outs. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa has also removed modern art work by Quebec painter Alfred Pellan and replaced it with a portrait of the Queen.

Harper has gone beyond the amount of royalism of previous conservative governments and there are questions as to how far Canada could go toward returning to monarchism. Many Canadian Tories were never happy that in 1965 the Liberal government of Prime Minister Lester Pearson scrapped the old Union Flag, the red ensign with the British Union Jack in its canton, and replaced it with the current red and white Maple Leaf flag, without the Union Jack. Some Tories would like to see the Maple Leaf replaced by the old British standard. And other Tories would have no problem with replacing the national anthem, “O Canada” with “God Save the Queen.”

Fortunately, the US will never become a monarchy because of constitutional considerations, but there is a trend where the feudal system could be revived. The question in the US is not whether it will return to a monarchy, but whether the feudal system will be revived. Will the US big business become feudal overlords? Will US citizens become serfs of big business working for low pay?

Let's here it for US reactionary politics!

Domestic Violence,
probably with a legal firearm

This was heartbreaking.  Minnesota is one of the safer states.........but there are still too many of these cases of domestic gun violence.  Firearms appear to appeal to impulses to kill more so than other weapons.  I haven't seen any mention so far on our news of the weapon being an illegal one.

The evening news here in MN reported the neighbors found the youngest child, 3 years old, sitting on the sofa in the same room as the three dead adults.  Whatever the reasoning of this man for committing two murders and then killing himself, he has undoubtedly badly scarred these children psychologically and emotionally for life, even with counseling.  No rationale on his part could justify these actions.

6-year-old finds parents, baby sitter dead

'Mommy, daddy dead! Mommy, daddy dead!' girl screams to neighbor

updated 2 hours 58 minutes ago 2011-09-16T23:03:10
A 6-year-old girl came home from school and discovered her parents and live-in baby sitter dead in what police said was a double murder-suicide in the Twin Cities suburb of Oakdale.
Teenage neighbor Brady Hartman told the Star Tribune that the child came home from school Thursday and found the three dead. He said the girl ran out of her house sobbing and screaming, "Mommy, daddy dead! Mommy, daddy dead!"
Hartman's mother consoled the girl and called 911.
Oakdale police said Friday the deaths of two women and one man are being investigated as a double murder-suicide and they are not seeking suspects. Oakdale police Officer Michelle Stark said the man's death was ruled a suicide.
A preliminary investigation by the Ramsey County medical examiner's office determined each of the three died of a gunshot wound to the head, police said. Investigators recovered a handgun and spent ammunition at the scene.
Police identified the three people found in the two-story home as Jaime Velasquez, 32; Cintia Guadalupe Ornelas Bustos, 28; and their baby sitter, Angela Uscanga Gonzalez, 43. Velasquez and Bustos had three children, they said.
Stark would not confirm reports that the young girl discovered the bodies.
It was not clear whether other children were home at the time of the killings. The Star Tribune reported that the girl and her brothers, ages 3 and 8, were staying with relatives.
Relatives said the couple owned All Seasons Siding and Roofing.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Is in my ears and in my eyes!

For Anonymous, who is a few years out of date and incredibly poorly informed, yet thinks he knows it all (but what's new?):

Watch out for liver (pronounced live-er, not liver) birds if you're looking for me. They are seen today!

I was going to do a post about the city where I live and its connection to the slave trade, this may hasten it.

Not that it does me too much good, but...

Showtime broadcasts outside of my viewing area, so the news that Living for 32, the Colin Goddard documentary about the Virginia Tech Shootings, is on Showtime Tonight does't do me too much good. On the other hand, for those of you who want to watch it:

(All Times ET/PT)

Tonight: Fri, Sept. 16. 2011 - 8pm
Tomorrow: Sat, Sept. 17. 2011 - 7pm (SHO 2)
Sun, Sept. 18. 2011 - 9:05am (Showtime Showcase)
Sun, Sept. 18. 2011 - 6:20pm (Showtime Showcase)
Tue, Sept. 20. 2011 - 7:50am
Tue, Sept. 20. 2011 - 8:00pm
Wed, Sept. 21. 2011 - 5:25pm (SHO 2)
Thu, Sept. 22. 2011 - 7:45am (Showtime Showcase)
Sat, Sept. 24. 2011 - 11:15am (Showtime Showcase)
Sun, Sept. 25. 2011 - 2:15pm


Watch On Demand from 09/17/11 to 10/14/11

Pandering to the Gun Lobby

Thanks to , The above titled NYT editorial about Florida trashing its gun laws came to my attention. The editorial asks how long can gutting gun laws go on?

Local Florida officials are scrambling to meet an Oct. 1 deadline by which they must scrap all local gun control laws.

The Florida Legislature passed a law that allowed the state to pre-empt the whole field of gun and ammunition controls in 1987, but it had very little effect on real life. “No Guns Allowed” signs and other notices were kept up in appropriate places as communities continued to enforce gun ordinances already on their books.

That is about to change under a new law passed in June by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Local governments could face penalties of $100,000 for not dropping their gun control laws. Local officials could face a $5,000 fine and possible removal from office. And court costs are explicitly denied for local officials if they are sued by gun owners under the new law.

Cities like St. Petersburg are rushing to repeal sensible ordinances against firing guns in the city limits. Other communities are busy removing bans on carrying guns into public parks. They must also repeal their authority to suspend gun and ammunition sales during public emergencies. “We’re not allowed to have bows and arrows or slingshots in a park, but we can have a gun,” a town council member in Oldsmar said to The St. Petersburg Times.

The question is how far does the firearms lobby's shit have to go before people get outraged and start to push back?

But what I liked best about this editorial was the comment that "Even the Supreme Court, in its ruling that misread the Second Amendment as a personal right to bear arms, stressed that it was not casting doubt on a wide range of gun control laws passed to protect communities from gun violence."

Bachmann "From My Cold, Dead Vagina" bumper sticker

I wonder if the Daily show will sell these--I want one!


Dog Gone added the Daily Show Clip

Solyndra has become known as a boondoggle in the US. If you haven't heard, it's the solar power company that got $500 million in Recovery Act loans from the Department of Energy and then went belly up a couple of weeks ago.

Conservatives have been trying to paint this as a big scandal of some kind, despite the fact that: the company had plenty of private investors too, it's the only DOE loan that has failed so far, and there's no real evidence that anyone in the White House did anything worse than push OMB to speed up their decision-making process a bit in 2009.

It’s often claimed that the Solyndra loan guarantee was “rushed through” by the Obama Administration for political reasons. In fact, the Solyndra loan guarantee was a multi-year process that the Bush Administration launched in 2007.

You’d never know from the media coverage that:
  • The Bush team tried to conditionally approve the Solyndra loan just before President Obama took office.
  • The company’s backers included private investors who had diverse political interests.
  • The loan comprises just 1.3% of DOE’s overall loan portfolio. To date, Solyndra is the only loan that’s known to be troubled.
The loan guarantee has been attacked as being political in nature because one of the Solyndra investors, Argonaut Venture Capital, is funded by George Kaiser, a man who donated money to the Obama campaign. What critics don’t mention is that one of the earliest and largest investors, Madrone Capital Partners, is funded by the family that started Wal-Mart, the Waltons and the Waltons have donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates over the years.

Climate Progress is publishing this timeline, verified by Department of Energy officials, that shows how the loan guarantee came together under both administrations to set the record straight. In fact, rather than rushing the loan for Solyndra through, the Obama Administration restructured the original Bush-era deal to further protect the taxpayers’ investment:

May 2005: Just as a global silicon shortage begins driving up prices of solar photovoltaics [PV], Solyndra is founded to provide a cost-competitive alternative to silicon-based panels.
July 2005: The Bush Administration signs the Energy Policy Act of 2005 into law, creating the 1703 loan guarantee program.
February 2006 – October 2006: In February, Solyndra raises its first round of venture financing worth $10.6 million from CMEA Capital, Redpoint Ventures, and U.S. Venture Partners. In October, Argonaut Venture Capital, an investment arm of George Kaiser, invests $17 million into Solyndra. Madrone Capital Partners, an investment arm of the Walton family, invests $7 million. Those investments are part of a $78.2 million fund.
December 2006: Solyndra Applies for a Loan Guarantee under the 1703 program.
Late 2007: Loan guarantee program is funded. Solyndra was one of 16 clean-tech companies deemed ready to move forward in the due diligence process. The Bush Administration DOE moves forward to develop a conditional commitment.
October 2008: Then Solyndra CEO Chris Gronet touted reasons for building in Silicon Valley and noted that the “company’s second factory also will be built in Fremont, since a Department of Energy loan guarantee mandates a U.S. location.”
November 2008: Silicon prices remain very high on the spot market, making non-silicon based thin film technologies like Solyndra’s very attractive to investors. Solyndra also benefits from having very low installation costs. The company raises $144 million from ten different venture investors, including the Walton-family run Madrone Capital Partners. This brings total private investment to more than $450 million to date.
January 2009: In an effort to show it has done something to support renewable energy, the Bush Administration tries to take Solyndra before a DOE credit review committee before President Obama is inaugurated. The committee, consisting of career civil servants with financial expertise, remands the loan back to DOE “without prejudice” because it wasn’t ready for conditional commitment.
March 2009: The same credit committee approves the strengthened loan application. The deal passes on to DOE’s credit review board. Career staff (not political appointees) within the DOE issue a conditional commitment setting out terms for a guarantee.
June 2009: As more silicon production facilities come online while demand for PV wavers due to the economic slowdown, silicon prices start to drop. Meanwhile, the Chinese begin rapidly scaling domestic manufacturing and set a path toward dramatic, unforeseen cost reductions in PV. Between June of 2009 and August of 2011, PV prices drop more than 50%.
September 2009: Solyndra raises an additional $219 million. Shortly after, the DOE closes a $535 million loan guarantee after six months of due diligence. This is the first loan guarantee issued under the 1703 program. From application to closing, the process took three years – not the 41 days that is sometimes reported. OMB did raise some concerns in August not about the loan itself but how the loan should be “scored.” OMB testified Wednesday that they were comfortable with the final scoring.
January – June 2010: As the price of conventional silicon-based PV continues to fall due to low silicon prices and a glut of solar modules, investors and analysts start questioning Solyndra’s ability to compete in the marketplace. Despite pulling its IPO (as dozens of companies did in 2010), Solyndra raises an additional $175 million from investors.
November 2010: Solyndra closes an older manufacturing facility and concentrates operations at Fab 2, the plant funded by the $535 million loan guarantee. The Fab 2 plant is completed that same month — on time and on budget — employing around 3,000 construction workers during the build-out, just as the DOE projected.
February 2011: Due to a liquidity crisis, investors provide $75 million to help restructure the loan guarantee. The DOE rightly assumed it was better to give Solyndra a fighting chance rather than liquidate the company – which was a going concern – for market value, which would have guaranteed significant losses.
March 2011: Republican Representatives complain that DOE funds are not being spent quickly enough.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI): “despite the Administration’s urgency and haste to pass the bill [the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] … billions of dollars have yet to be spent.”
And House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL): “The whole point of the Democrat’s stimulus bill was to spend billions of dollars … most of the money still hasn’t been spent.”
June 2011: Average selling prices for solar modules drop to $1.50 a watt and continue on a pathway to $1 a watt. Solyndra says it has cut costs by 50%, but analysts worry how the company will compete with the dramatic changes in conventional PV.
August 2011: DOE refuses to restructure the loan a second time.
September 2011: Solyndra closes its manufacturing facility, lays off 1,100 workers and files for bankruptcy. The news is touted as a failure of the Obama Administration and the loan guarantee office. However, as of September 12, the DOE loan programs office closed or issued conditional commitments of $37.8 billion to projects around the country. The $535 million loan is only 1.3% of DOE’s loan portfolio. To date, Solyndra is the only loan that’s known to be troubled.
Meanwhile, after complaining about stimulus funds moving too slowly, Congressmen Fred Upton and Cliff Stearns are now claiming that the Administration was pushing funds out the door too quickly: “In the rush to get stimulus cash out the door, despite repeated claims by the Administration to the contrary, some bets were bad from the beginning.”
What critics fail to mention is that the Solyndra deal is more than three years old, started under the Bush Administration, which tried to conditionally approve the loan right before Obama took office. Rather than “pushing funds out the door too quickly,” the Obama Administration restructured the original loan when it came into office to further protect the taxpayers’ investment.

What actually happened, how it could have been prevented and who's responsible, are these things are orthogonal to the battle taking place in political circles. That battle has nothing to do with the facts.

For a mix of financial and ideological reasons, U.S. conservative movement activists, operators, and politicos hate clean energy. They don't believe in climate change, they love fossil fuels and fossil-fuel campaign donations, and they think, or want the U.S. public to think, that clean energy is weak, unreliable, marginal, and dependent on government subsidies. They have been trying to make that case for a long while.

What Solyndra gives them is a symbol, something to use as a stand-in to discredit not just the DOE loan program, but all government support for clean energy and indeed clean energy itself.

Cons understand post-truth politics. They understand that truth is utterly inert in an era when mainstream institutions are viewed with hostility and skepticism, the media is fractured, and there are no shared norms or referees to enforce them. The side that wins is the side that plays to its audience's existing preconceptions with a simple message repeated over and over and over again in multiple venues.

That's what is happening now around Solyndra. The right is going after this whole hog, trying to make the name synonymous with clean energy boondoggle. And the left is flailing around, throwing out this fact and that fact with no coherent message. Additionally, the right pretty much has a lock on the US media so that the message that this was yet another Obama and environmentalist failure is repeated over and over.

That works with the Low Information Voters who believe that global warming is a hoax, or in some way a disputed theory. Unfortunately, they are the people who need to be reached with better information rather than fed more of the corporatocratic propaganda.

See also:


Sort of a repost from my blog:

I wanted to do this post after I found my copy of the Bulletin, an English language journal from Brussels, that has an article called "So you think you have rights". The basic gist of it was that Belgium had a very different take on rights compared to Anglo-American. I'll post a scan of that cover when I find it.

A personal example, which I have mentioned before, was of the Mormon Missionaries who were arrested by the Belgian police since the Police weren't sure what exactly Mormon missionaries did. Of course, this was well before the film "Orgazmo" was released (sorry, I had to put that in). Anyway, Belgian law allows for the police to arrest someone for 48 hours and hold them just to check them out. The Mormons were fed a baguette and a litre of coffee every 4 hours. Something which doesn't happen in the USA. These poor buggers are suffering since they can't drink coffee and don't understand why the police can just pull them off the street for no reason.

Personally, I thought it would be a good idea to use the Cinquantinare as a shortcut home from a meeting only to be accounsted by half the Brussels police. I stood still and answered their questions since I was only going home. I handed them my passport when they asked for my ID, which meant they had the only cop who spoke English tell me "it was very dangerous to be in the park at night". I was tempted to respond that there were enough cops there that the park should have been pretty safe. I was told to go back the way I came.

The gist of this is that I hear a lot of talk from Americans about rights of all kinds, civic, individual, collective, god given, pre-exisiting, natural, human, and so on, but what the fuck does that really mean in practise?

Rights are entitlements or permissions, usually of a legal or moral nature. Rights are of vital importance in the fields of law and ethics.

The declaration of a right is an act comparable to law-giving, in the way that kings gave law. It is essentially a command or decree: do this, don't do that. Implicitly, the law is intended for enforcement, and is assumed to create an entitlement to enforce it. So declarations of rights are 'rule', in the political science sense. Declarations of rights are therefore fundamentally political acts, acts of policy. Anyone who issues and enforces declarations of rights is exercising political power. As you would expect, it is normally governments, and inter-governmental organisations, which issue the declarations. It is not an activity of oppressed individuals, as suggested by the propaganda.

Some people in history have indeed claimed rights - but most have had their rights declared for them by others. They are not allowed to renounce these 'declared rights'. The idea that a person must accept all rights declared for them, clearly contradicts the idea of political freedom. The human-rights tradition includes no element of consent. It is these aspects, which make the doctrine of human rights a license for oppression. Generally, rights have the following characteristics:

* a right is declared by one person or organisation, for another person
* usually, a right is declared by one person or organisation, for all human beings
* the consent of the other person or persons is not necessary, for the right to be declared
* there are certain actions (or restraint from certain actions) which constitute 'respect' of the right
* these actions (or restraint from action) may legitimately be taken
* there is usually a moral duty to take these actions (or restrain from certain action)
* the person with the 'right' has no moral grounds to oppose this action of respecting - even if they have not consented to the right in the first place
* therefore there are certain actions which may legitimately be taken against another, since they fulfil a moral obligation to respect a right, and these actions do not constitute a harm
* since there is a moral obligation to these actions, they are not wrong, even if consent for them is explicitly refused, and even if the person affected considers them a harm

Those are far-reaching claims by the rights theorists, and the human rights lobby. It is obvious, even from this summary, that the logic of rights interferes with the principle of moral autonomy.

Formally, what happens when a right is declared? The standard answer is: it creates a moral duty to respect it. But that is not all that happens. A right, once its existence is recognised, effectively divides all possible human actions into three categories: actions which respect that right, violations of the right, and actions which are neutral with respect to that right. Declaring a right is a declaration of a desired course of action, not necessarily action by the holders of the right. Implicitly, the declaration of a right promotes and legitimises actions to enforce that right.

Any harm to others can be justified by claiming that it is intended to respect certain 'rights', even if the victim does not know of their existence. Likewise, the right can be misinterpreted from what was originally intended to cause social harm. This is the case with the Second Amendment, which was originally intended to guarantee a Swiss style military to prevent a large standing army.

Somehow, that original intent has been perverted to prevent any regulation of firearms. A right to armed self-defence has been found where it is not explicitly present in the text. Thus a misinterpretation of the Second Amendment works against the original intent of the text, security of the free state.

Rights are not universal, they are not even 'western' or 'European'. Rights are clearly political in their nature. They are created by humans, not god, and specific humans for a specific reason. It is not in itself good to respect a right. Every right is itself subject to ethical assessment, to moral judgment. It can be wrong to respect a right, even a right that has been allegedly consented.

Even more interesting is the case when rights conflict: for example property rights and the current interpretation of "the right to keep and bear arms". If a property owner disagrees with the use of firearms, say gun free zones in Universities or on Secure Installations, should the "right to keep and bear arms" trump the property owner's right to keep firearms from their property?

Or does the First Amendment right prevail over the Second Amendment right?

Likewise, if the current interpretation of the Second Amendment right leads to societal costs in the form of additional police hours at mass shooting sites, the cost of treating victims of mass shootings and so on, should that right be respected? Should those who claim that right be bear the societal costs in the form of increased taxation? Take Chris Rock's example:

Would it make more sense to just tax the fuck out of bullets and reloading supplies while not bothering with firearms in "deference to the Second Amendment right"?

The basic point I am making is that the US tends to make a great deal of rights. These rights impose the value system where they originate: the European liberal tradition, in particular Anglo-American liberalism. One finds that rights are not as much of an issue in other countries as they are in the United States.

Twiddling around at

Given my interest in this topic is (a) more international and (b) more interested in the military aspect of the Second Amendment--I was hoping to find some interesting story about gun running in Papua-New Guinea. or a fact like:
More than a quarter of Swiss households have access to a gun, according to a study carried out by the Institute of Criminology at the University of Zurich.
Instead, these stats came up:
Number of Homicides (any method)
LinkIn the United States, annual homicides by any means total
2010: 14,1595
2009: 15,241
2008: 16,272
2007: 16,929
2006: 17,030
2005: 16,740
2004: 16,148
2003: 16,528
2002: 16,229
2001: 16,037
2000: 15,586
1999: 12,6586
1998: 14,276
1997: 18,2087
1996: 19,645
1995: 21,606

Rate of Homicide per 100,000 People (any method)

In the United States, the annual rate of homicide by any means per 100,000 population is
2009: 4.965
2008: 5.35
2007: 5.61
2006: 5.70
2005: 5.66
2004: 5.51
2003: 5.69
2002: 5.64
2001: 5.63
2000: 5.52
1999: 4.556
1998: 5.19
1993: 9.938

Number of Gun Homicides

In the United States, annual firearm homicides total LinkChart

2008: 9,4849
2007: 10,129
2006: 10,225
2005: 10,158
2004: 9,385
2002: 9,36910
2001: 8,890
1999: 8,2596
1998: 9,257

Rate of Gun Homicide per 100,000 People

In the United States, the annual rate of firearm homicide per 100,000 population is
2009: 2.985
2008: 3.12
2007: 3.36
2006: 3.42
2005: 3.43
2004: 3.20
2002: 3.2510
2001: 3.12
1999: 2.976
1998: 3.37
1993: 7.0711 describes itself as:
Armed violence and gun laws, country by country

In a sea of web sites offering unverified, polarised opinions on gun violence, provides evidence-based, country-by-country intelligence from a broad range of official and academic sources. This university site is for researchers, officials, journalists and advocates who need accurate citations and rapid access to credible sources.

For more see:

Got a weapon--turn 'em in!

The London Metropolitan Police has a programme where they stop and search people for weapons.

These searches were even more successful "when people give us information into who we should be stopping", according to Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe. He added that when someone regularly carried a weapon, their "brothers will know, the girlfriends will know, the people they go out with every night will know...If they tell us, we'll make sure we stop those people, and therefore make our stop-and-search even more effective."

I bet that gives the US 2A crowd the willies.

Personally, I preferred the knife exchange programme.

It needs to be said:

"In those days men were real men, women were real women, small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before - and thus was the Empire forged."
--Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

And don't forget that in those times, life was mostly tax free!

The Jane Austen Action Figure

Between dealing with 19th Century militias and zombies, Jane Austen was a woman who proved that the pen was indeed mightier than the sword--especially if you know where to stick it in your enemy!

Here she is complete with writing desk ready to deal with some serious "dreadful" action.

She can be bought here.
Forget those soldier action figures and get ready for some ladylike martial art action kicking dreadful butt with the help of the -------shire militia!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

You use too many big words!!!

cross post from my blog:

OMG, this really was a comment someone made about my posts.

Yes, and some of them are really big ones too!

I will try to make my sentences shorter and use simpler language, but that will be a struggle. Maybe I should add more pictures. Stupid people like picture books.

In fact, in countries with low literacy rates, they put the pictures of the contents on products. When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the beautiful Caucasian baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what’s inside, since most people can’t read. the mostly uneducated consumers thought the jars contained ground-up babies. Needless to say, sales were terrible!

That puts this picture in a different light since perhaps this baby is showing fear at being ground up and stuck in a jar. More baby oil please!

I was told I was born speaking complete sentences. So, I said, “the task of discovering the meaning of my writing must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted” instead of saying “da-da”, “ma-ma”, or “doug-doug” when I was an infant. Although I do admit to regressing in speech patterns as I have aged.

I am truly overeducated with useless knowledge and the desire to learn has never left me. Like Chaucer’s Clerke of Oxenford “Gladly would he learn and gladly would he teach”. I also will read pretty much whatever is put in front of me.

Someone said he thought I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. Sorry, but I don’t see myself as smart, although others tell me I am. In fact, that intended insult was more of a compliment and the person who made it lacked the smarts to realise that. I also find through dealings with others that I am a lot smarter than they are since it is amazing how people can find simple concepts difficult to grasp. In particular some moron who wants to put you down by telling you that you aren’t that smart and then showing that he has no idea of what you are talking about.

I’ve been told I have a genius IQ more than once (and seem even smarter after correcting that typo).

I don’t belong to MENSA though, but I do belong to DENSA.

Seriously, I try not to be a wanker about it, but it’s kind of hard.

Not to mention very lonely being over-educated and literate.

Pride and Prejudice...and THE MILITIA!

Yeah, we're talking the Jane Austin Pride and Prejudice where the Bennet girls become friendly with militia officers stationed in the nearby town. The militia is leaving town, which makes the younger, rather man-crazy Bennet girls distraught. Lydia manages to obtain permission from her father to spend the summer with an old colonel in Brighton, where one of the officer's regiment will be stationed.

The subplot of the militia in Pride and Prejudice is a constant throughout the novel. Though members of the militia were only required to train for twenty eight days of the year, they were often thought to be superior patriots and were generally held in high regard. The militia served as Britain's standing army of reserve troops; during the the late Georgian and the Regency eras. Their purpose was to defend Britain in case of a French invasion. When Pride and Prejudice was written, Britain was on the verge of war with France and eventually became involved in the Napoleonic Wars, therefore Austen's inclusion of officers in Pride and Prejudice merely accurately reflected the perception of the militia at the time.

Since training lasted only twenty eight days of the year, Lydia's expectation that Colonel Forster would host a ball in Meryton was not unrealistic at all, and given the lack of conflict on British soil combined with widespread respect for the patriotic militia officers, their presence at such social events was probably commonplace. Indeed, in Pride and Prejudice the absence of the militia greatly affected Elizabeth in that "parties abroad were less varied than before; and at home she had a mother and sister whose constant repinings at the dulness of everything around them, threw a real gloom over their domestic circle". Essentially, the absence of soldiers did not affect the safety of the surrounding area of their former camp, but the social life.

Wickham's position as an officer in the militia and a gentlemen allows him to escape from paying his debts for quite awhile, but when Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet must finally research his debts, it is found that he has many "debts of honor"to other officers, and that he was a "gamester". Such debts demonstrate the laxity of the volunteer military atmosphere and the culture of the military regiments, the greater implication being that many militia men are involved in gambling, and that Wickham is one of the few who dishonorably ignore his debts.

Of course, the role of the militia is much more interesting in the later versions of Pride and Prejudice--Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls where the militia proves useful in combatting the dreadfuls (otherwise known as zombies). That and the Bennet girls' ladylike martial arts abilities.

See also:
  • Fulford, Tim, Sighing for a Soldier: Jane Austen and Military Pride and Prejudice, Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 57, No. 2. (2002), pp. 153-178.

Darth Cheney, Champion of Torture, needs to get a heart

Did the War for American Independence begin with an intellectual snub?

I wish I had bookmarked the site where it was alleged that Benjamin Franklin's desire for American Independence began with his being told he was intellectually inferior to the British when he was sent to Britain in 1757. Benjamin Franklin stated that " to be an England-man was, of itself, a character of some respect" but he lamented that his non-colonial cousins did not regard them as fellow Britons as if they were "unworthy of the name of Englishmen, and fit only to be snubbed". Considering that Franklin was instrumental in creating The Academy and College of Philadelphia (later to become the University of Pennsylvania), The Library Company of Philadelphia, and American Philosophical Society, that was truly an insult. Franklin worked at promoting intellectual life in the North American Colonies, but those attempts were deemed inferior by the Europeans.

Thomas Jefferson also encountered this snobbery with the idealization of Americans as Rousseau's "noble savages" stirred European sympathies for the United States during the War for Independence, but the European emphasis upon savagery over nobility stirred resentment among Americans. One of Jefferson's more emotional moments in Europe was his encounter with the pejorative opinions of French intellectuals concerning the American character. His Notes on the State of Virginia was a response to those Europeans who shared the views of the naturalist Georges Buffon that animal life in America was inferior in size and strength to that of the Old World. Jefferson's response went beyond a literary effort; Buffon received skins and skeletons of American animals sent to France at Jefferson's behest to prove the equality, if not the superiority, of life in the New World.

Even more galling was the charge of the philosophe Abbé Guillaume Raynal that human life degenerated on the American continent. This observation contained aspersions on American virility as well as on American genius. Jefferson countered this assault with a spirited presentation of Indian virtues. He labored valiantly, but under obvious handicaps, in pointing out poets and artists, mathematicians and scientists, to match the products of Europe. Benjamin Franklin and David Rittenhouse were not the equals of Galileo and Newton.

The vigor of American ripostes to perceived insults to their nationality inspired more derision than respect among Europeans of this period. None was more devastating than the Reverend Sydney Smith, a Yorkshire wit who reacted to American claims to being "the greatest, the most enlightened, the most moral people upon earth" by asking rhetorically, "In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue?" So much for the pretensions of American nationalism. A sense of inferiority in relation to older civilizations seemed to have given rise to a hyperbolic style of self-defense that invited ridicule.

America thrived on its newness and break from Europe, but the question remained regarding American culture how close are its ties to its origins? Was one of the legacies of the War for Independence this desire for total newness and a break from its roots?

The problem was there was a cultural elite in the early republic, the traces of which still exist, but anti-intellectualism is becoming the rule in the US. People in the United States have moved down a path that rejects logical, rational thought. In its wake, we can easily see the rise of a lot of negative things.

Susan Jacoby writes about the American brain drain in a article titled The Dumbing Of America. It has the subtitle “Call Me a Snob, but Really, We’re a Nation of Dunces”. I couldn’t agree more with this premise. From the article:

Americans are in serious intellectual trouble — in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.

This is the last subject that any candidate would dare raise on the long and winding road to the White House. It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an “elitist,” one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just “folks,” a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980.

And from the article’s conclusion:

The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it’s the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism — a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation.

There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism; rote efforts to raise standardized test scores by stuffing students with specific answers to specific questions on specific tests will not do the job. Moreover, the people who exemplify the problem are usually oblivious to it. (“Hardly anyone believes himself to be against thought and culture,” Hofstadter noted.) It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality. If this indeed turns out to be a “change election,” the low level of discourse in a country with a mind taught to aim at low objects ought to be the first item on the change agenda.

As Susan at Liberality put it: "Two hundred years ago the founders of the republic would have been deliriously happy at the idea of Americans able to be informed by the sheer volume of available facts the digital information age would produce. The fatal assumption was that Americans would choose to think and learn, instead of reinforcing their particular choice of cultural ignorance."

The founders would be appalled at this.

Read more: Constructing an american identity - Nationalism

Bizarre Florida Gun Law Blocked by a Federal Judge

A federal judge on Wednesday blocked enforcement of a first-in-the-nation law that restricted what Florida physicians can say about guns to their patients, ruling the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s free speech guarantees and does not trample gun rights.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said it was important to emphasize “the free flow of truthful, non-misleading information within the doctor-patient relationship.”

“This case concerns one of our Constitution’s most precious rights — the freedom of speech,” said Cooke, appointed to the bench by Republican President George W. Bush. “A practitioner who counsels a patient on firearm safety, even when entirely irrelevant to medical care or safety, does not affect or interfere with the patient’s right to continue to own, possess or use firearms.”
This was truly one of the most bizarre gun laws, it barely made sense. Yet the support was as strong as if we'd been discussing gun registration, which every gun owners knows leads directly and inevitably to confiscation.

The NRA pushed this nonsense which amounted to a gag order, actually presuming to tell doctors what they can and cannot say to their patients. Governor Rick Scott signed off on it, of course, which contributed to his reputation as one of the worst.

The whole weird story could only have happened in a state like Florida, which as everyone knows is The Most Baneful State of the Union.

What's your opinion? Isn't there an obvious First Amendment contradiction in this legislation? Wasn't it bound to run into trouble in practice?  The suggestion that gun talk during a medical exam is inappropriate is ridiculous, but even if it were, certainly should not require a law prohibiting it.

This seems to be another example of the flip-flopping which gun-rights activists often do, always depending on what best supports their agenda.  Normally they bristle and resist government interference and unnecessary laws.  In this case, they wanted exactly that.

What's your opinion?  Please leave a comment.

Dumbing Down the U.S.A., a Republican Legacy?

This parallels a discussion that Laci and I had recently about the dumbing down of America, particularly as reflected in the anti-science, anti-history, anti-intellectuals on the right.  I couldn't help but notice that the decline parallels predominantly Republican dominance in Congress, and the Presidency.


SAT reading scores fall to lowest level on record
Educators note more test-takers had a first language other than English

updated 9/14/2011 12:00:34 PM ET 2011-09-14T16:00:34
Scores on the critical reading portion of the SAT college entrance exam fell three points to their lowest level on record last year, and combined reading and math scores reached their lowest point since 1995.

Chart shows mean SAT scores since 1972.

The College Board, which released the scores Wednesday, said the results reflect the record number of students from the high school class of 2011 who took the exam and the growing diversity of the test-taking pool — particularly Hispanics. As more students aim for college and take the exam, it tends to drag down average scores.
Still, while the three-point decline to 497 may look small in the context of an 800-point test, it was only the second time in the last two decades reading scores have fallen as much in a single year. And reading scores are now notably lower than scores as recently as 2005, when the average was 508.
Average math scores for the class of 2011 fell one point to 514 and scores on the critical reading section fell two points to 489.
Other recent tests of reading skills, such as the National Assessment of Education Progress, have shown reading skills of high-school students holding fairly steady. And the pool of students who take the SAT is tilted toward college-goers and not necessarily representative of all high school students.
But the relatively poor performance on the SATs could raise questions whether reading and writing instruction need even more emphasis to accommodate the country's changing demographics.
Roughly 27 percent of the 1.65 million test-takers last year had a first language other than English, up from 19 percent just a decade ago.
Jim Montoya, vice president of relationship development at the College Board, said the expanding Latino population was a factor, as well as greater outreach to get minority students to take the test. But there are others, too.
"It's a lot of little things," he said. For example, he said, the number of black students taking a solid core curriculum — a strong predictor of success on the test — has fallen from 69 percent to 66 percent over a decade.
The College Board, a membership organization that owns the exam and promotes college access, also released its first "College and Career Benchmark" report, which it said would eventually be used to help show states and school districts how well prepared their students are. Based on research at 100 colleges, it calculated that scoring 1550 or above on the three sections of the test indicated a 65-percent likelihood of attaining a B-minus or above average in the freshman year of college.
Overall, 43 percent of test-takers reached that benchmark.
The SAT and rival ACT exam are taken by roughly the same number of students each year. Most colleges require scores from at least one of the exams but will consider either. In recent years, some colleges have adopted test-optional policies allowing applicants to decline to submit test scores at all.
Further score information is available at

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Batman--Seduction of the Gun

The power of Art:

The DC Graphic Novel Batman: Seduction of the Gun, by John Ostrander and Vice Giarrano is said to be the impetus for Virginia passing its one gun amonth bill in the 1990s. The novel was written after an adult son of one of the Warner Brothers executives who worked with DC Comics was senselessly murdered in 1990.

The comic talks about a gun runner who goes to Virginia to bring guns back to Gotham City. Batman masquerades as a gun dealer while Robin enrolls in an inner-city high to protect the dealer’s daughter from gang reprisal. This picture is where Robin is talking to the other non-gang affiliated kids at the School.

I have to admit I wonder if this is where Fat White Man got his nom de plume as a dig at the sentiment expressed in the comic.

See also:

Comparing the Modern Tea Party to the Original By Barbara Smith

Repost from my blog

Comparing the Modern Tea Party to the Original By Barbara Smith

Barbara Smith is the author of “The Freedoms We Lost: Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America,” just issued by The New Press.

In light of the recent anniversary of the original Tea Party, shouldn’t we consult history to clarify what the Boston brouhaha of 1773 was really about? Here are some things we would do well to remember today:

* There was little that was “conservative” about the event. A mob seized and destroyed private property. Conservative interests at the time deplored it, and the respectable descendants of the Revolutionary generation did their best to forget it when they wrote up their official accounts of the Revolution.
* It was not all about taxes. The colonists who dumped tea in Boston harbor did not oppose taxation by representative governments. They routinely voted in town meetings to support the poor and pay for common goods such as roads or public schools. From time to time they dug into their pockets to pay off public debts created by expensive wars. They did not worry much about the likelihood of taxes going to “freeloading” poor people or immigrants, because they knew that government is rarely controlled by the poor or the newcomer. Far more likely—far more dangerous—was an alliance between government and the already wealthy and well-connected.
* It was about the power of private interests. As colonists saw it, Parliament had been corrupted by the influence of money. First, opulent West Indies planters had promoted the Sugar Act to boost their profits. Wealthy Britons had supported the Stamp Act in order to cut their own taxes. Now shareholders of the East India Company hoped to reap a windfall off a monopoly on the tea trade. All these measures served special interests at the expense of ordinary colonists in North America. Rather than defending the tax breaks of the wealthy or the monopoly privileges of private companies, the original Patriots championed the wellbeing of middling households.
* It was about the obligation of government to regulate economic transactions. Eighteenth-century Patriots assumed a principle of public activism. Samuel Adams explained in a Boston newspaper: Governments might oppress the people by grabbing too much power, but oppression also occurred when governments were too weak. Government existed precisely “to protect the people and promote their prosperity.” In normal times, people expected government to limit monopolies and excessive profit-taking. In the imperial crisis, Patriots insisted that countless transactions—not only tea sales—should come under public scrutiny and serve the common good. What justified destroying the East India Company’s tea was the principle that public good trumped corporate profit.
* It was about the distribution of wealth. Americans’ ancestors had been uprooted from the British countryside as great landowners amassed more and more of the land. In North America, many English settlers had achieved a sort of middling security. Now that security was threatened. Parliament was taking the side of the rich, and some rich Americans were taking the side of Parliament. The danger was the impoverishment of everyone else. The Patriots believed that a rough economic equality was necessary to maintaining liberty.

Viewed accurately, the original Patriots would sadly disappoint today’s Tea Party activists, who promote a far different political philosophy. Of course no one today needs to agree with eighteenth-century ideas, and we know that the Patriots had their profound flaws. But we must object when present-day interests sidestep good-faith discussion of the merits of their position by misappropriating the founding generation. The principles of today’s Tea Partiers may (or may not) be correct, but they cannot establish it through sleight of hand, blithely invoking the founders while ignoring those founders’ ideas. The rest of America should not be intimidated by unfounded claims that Tea Partiers are the “real America” or that their values are the ones that originally won American freedom. Those claims fly in the face of history, and they contribute little to our ability to address the massive problems that we face as a nation.

See also: By Jill Lepore’s Boundless promise and grave peril

Class War For Idiots--7 Ways the Koch Bros. Benefit from Corporate Welfare

welfare cadilac charles david koch

Mainstream America is finally getting to know the billionaire brothers backing the libertarian movement, thanks to a pair of dueling profiles in New York and The New Yorker. Now that we’ve heard about their charitable giving, David’s 240-foot mega-yacht and role as patrons of the Tea Party movement, it’s time to ask a more serious question: How libertarian are they?
The short answer…not very.
Charles and David Koch, the secretive billionaire brothers who own Koch Industries, the largest private oil company in America, have spent millions bankrolling free-market think tanks and pro-business politicians in order, as David Koch has put it, “to minimize the role of government, to maximize the role of private economy and to maximize personal freedoms.” But a closer look at their dealings reveals that for the past 35 years the brothers have never shied away from using government subsidies to maximize their own profits, even while endeavoring to limit government spending on anything else. Simply put: the Kochs have no problem with socialism — as long as they’re in on the action.
In 1977, Charles Koch founded the Cato Institute, an influential libertarian think tank, with the aim of injecting free-market ideas into the mainstream. The Kochs would go on to establish and fund a vast network of overlapping think tanks, institutes, foundations, media outlets, and lobby groups that would vilify centralized government and promote laissez-faire capitalism as the only route to economic prosperity. The Mercatus Center, Americans for Prosperity, Reason Magazine, the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation are just a few of the right-wing organizations that run on Koch cash today.
Koch Industries is America’s second-largest private corporation, with revenue of $100 billion in 2009, and 80,000 employees in 60 countries. According to Charles Koch, Koch Industries has grown 2,000-fold since he took over from his dad in 1967, transforming a middling oil transportation and refinement operation into a corporate mini-state involved in oil, petrochemicals, paper, agriculture and financial services. Worth just under $20 billion apiece, the brothers live like emperors. David Koch, 70, resides in a Park Avenue and likes to take a few weeks off every year to lounge on his 246-foot megayacht in the Mediterranean, which costs $500,000 a week to operate and has been rented out for pleasure cruises by Prince Charles.
Seventy-four-year-old Charles G. Koch, who runs the company from a compound in Wichita, Kansas, has attributed the company’s success to an unshakable belief in the power of the free-markets—a belief that he says can be traced back to an “intellectual epiphany” he experienced at a conference more than 40 years ago. There, Koch realized that free-market economics were an objective reality “as immutable as the laws that work in science,” he explained in 2006.
In its recent profile, the New Yorker called Charles and David Koch “the primary underwriters of hard-line libertarian politics in America.” But the magazine failed to mention that their free market philanthropy belies the immense profit they have made from corporate welfare.


Two years before founding the influential Cato Institute, Charles Koch bought a supertanker from a communist regime. According to information in the Lehman Brothers business archives, as well as records found in a Croatian shipyard, in 1975, Koch Industries purchased ship from the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. The ship, a standard 274,330-ton dual use tanker, was named after the Kochs’ mother, Mary.
The purchase of a ship from Yugoslavia would not have been a big deal, had the Kochs not been the ones doing the buying. With the whole free world to choose from, why would a supposedly true-believer libertarian like Charles Koch buy a vessel produced in a communist country—and name it after his own dear mother, to boot? After all, didn’t Austrian school economist Ludwig Von Mises, an early influence on Charles’ intellectual journey to libertarianism, write in his 1933 seminal work, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, that centrally planned economies are so inherently inefficient that “socialism must fail”?
It turned out that Yugoslavia’s highly-centralized economy was the opposite of inefficient—it was on fire. In the 1960s and 1970s, the country was churning out, among other things, low-cost, high-quality ships that were sold around the world. Even the old-school libertarian magazine The Freeman couldn’t help but praise the country’s economic performance, writing in 1988, “Many of Yugoslavia’s industries seemed highly competitive in world markets, and there were even astonishing reports that efficient Yugoslav shipbuilders wrested contracts away from the Japanese.”


In 1998, Koch Industries entered into a lucrative partnership with two state-owned companies–one Venezuelan, the other Italian–to open a massive $1 billion nitrogen-based fertilizer plant in Venezuela called Fertinitro.
A business venture with two state-run companies? How did Koch Industries find itself in this libertarian nightmare scenario? After all, Charles Koch’s own Cato Institute brain trust has been writing for decades that state-owned enterprises are less efficient and productive than private companies.
Fertilizer production requires massive amounts of natural gas, and obtaining it can account for 50 percent of operating costs. Luckily for Koch, Fertinitro’s semi-state-owned status allowed it to tap into a guaranteed supply of natural gas subsidized by the state. Steven Bodzin, a former Bloomberg journalist, found that “just on the natural gas, never mind the electricity or water subsidies, Koch profits from a direct Venezuelan government subsidy of $1.23 for every thousand cubic feet of gas consumed at Fertinitro.” For Koch Industries, whose role in the partnership is to unload half of the 6 million tons of fertilizer produced by Fertinitro every year on the American market, that equals up to $123.6 million in subsidies every year.
Savor the irony: While tea partiers wave Koch-funded placards comparing President Obama to Hugo Chavez, the Kochs are busy profiting off Chavez’s socialist economy—only to turn around and blame Venezuela’s poverty on Hugo Chavez’s socialist policies.


For the past fifty years, through its Matador Cattle Company subsidiary, Koch Industries has been quietly milking a New Deal program that allows ranchers to use federal land basically for free. Matador, one of the ten biggest domestic cattle ranching operations, has something in the neighborhood of 300,000 acres of grazing land for its cows—two-thirds of which belong to American taxpayers, who will never see a penny of profit.


In 2006, Koch Industries acquired pulp and paper giant Georgia-Pacific for a $21-billion cash payment, allowing the Koch brothers to tap into a whole new area of government largesse: the ability to log public forests for private gain and have taxpayers cover the operating costs. Not only can companies like Georgia-Pacific, which is the world’s leading manufacturer of paper products, exploit a publicly-shared resource without sharing the profits, but the U.S. Forestry Service subsidizes them to do it by forcing taxpayers to fund the construction of new logging roads that provide loggers with access to virgin growth—a nice welfare arrangement for the industry that costs taxpayers over $1 billion a year.
“Private logging of America’s National Forests is a heavily subsidized form of corporate welfare,” wrote Scott Silver, founder and executive director of Wild Wilderness, a conservation watchdog, at the time of the Georgia-Pacific’s sale to Koch Industries. “Logging companies such as Georgia-Pacific strip lands bare, destroy vast acreages and pay only a small fee to the federal government in proportion to what they take from the public.”


Just two weeks ago, Koch Industries got into the ethanol business by buying two ethanol plants in Iowa. Other than defense, ethanol is possibly the most subsidized industry in America. Koch’s own Cato Institute has called ethanol a “boondoggle,” writing that “the dizzying array of federal, state and local subsidies, preferences and mandates for ethanol fuel are a sad reflection of how a mix of cynical politics and we-can-do-anything American naiveté can cloud minds and distort markets.” The institute has sharply criticized the billions of dollars in federal and state subsidies that are poured into the ethanol industry (between $5 billion and $6.8 billion in 2006 alone).
Koch Industries has traded ethanol for years on the commodities market, but their entry into the production side of the business puts them in a position to profit off the subsidies in a more direct manner.


Although highly diversified, Koch Industries’ vast network of oil and gas pipelines remains the company’s core business and main source of revenue. The exact size of their pipeline network is not known, but some estimate that Koch Industries operates anywhere between 35,000 and 50,000 miles of pipelines between Texas and Canada—enough plumbing to wrap around the globe twice or zigzag between New York and Los Angeles 15 times. How did the Kochs manage to build up a pipeline network of this magnitude? By getting the government to use its tyrannical powers of eminent domain to forcibly seize private property on Koch Industries’ behalf.
As far as libertarians are concerned, eminent domain is a socialist tyranny straight out of the Leninist playbook, as it recognizes the government as the real owner of all land and vests it with the power to expropriate private property for alleged public good. At the most fundamental level, libertarians believe that eminent domain invalidates the notion of private property rights, threatening not just prosperity, but freedom. Charles Koch is clear on this. “Countries that clearly define and protect individual private property rights stimulate investment and grow,” he writes in his book The Science of Success. “Those that threaten and confiscate private property lose capital and decline.”
But not all property rights are created equal. A Koch Industries oil pipeline recently built in Minnesota shows that Charles Koch does not see an is anything wrong with the government confiscating private property, as long as he stands to make a profit.
Completed in 2008, the 304-mile line now carries crude oil from the Canadian border to a Koch Industries refinery near the Twin Cities area via a two-foot-wide pipe. Company PR execs pitched the pipeline as a public benefit project, as it would increase Minnesota’s gasoline supply. But the 1,000-plus landowners who were forced to handover their private property so that Koch Industries could run its pipeline didn’t quite see it that way. “People’s rights were violated, and they never got their due process,” a farmer whose fields were going to be cut in two by the pipeline told a newspaper in 2007. “It’s wrong. People’s property is one of the most important things to their livelihood.”


Before Fredrick Koch suddenly developed a pinko paranoia and helped start up the John Birch Society, he was making piles of cash laying the foundation of Soviet oil infrastructure in the 1920s and early 1930s. He designed and built refineries, hosted Soviet engineers for training in Wichita, Kansas, and made an invaluable contribution to the rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union during Joseph Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan. This is a touchy issue for the Koch family: without the Commie Reds providing his future seed capital, Koch Industries would not exist today—and neither would the Tea Parties.
When I wrote about the Koch family’s wealth and its connection to the Soviet Union in April 2010, libertarians rushed to the Kochs’ defense, arguing that business decisions made when they were children had no bearing on Charles and David Koch. They are not their father, and cannot be blamed for his sins―which is true. The brothers are better at the libertarian lie than their father ever was: their self-help libertarianism is more effective pro-billionaire propaganda than his racist Bircher rants. But while the tone may be different, the objective is very much the same: to con the American people into voting against their own interests.



The next time you hear Michele Bachmann (who’s a welfare queen in her own right) screaming at the top of her lungs that socialized healthcare is “reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom” or watch a Cato Institute shill on Meet the Press layout a case for why you should support the privatization of social security, remember: they aren’t hypocrites, they’re cons looking to rip you off.

Yasha Levine is an editor of The eXiled. Levine and co-author Mark Ames first broke the connection between the Tea Party and the billionaire Koch brothers in in February 2009, sparking lawsuit threats, and causing CNBC’s Rick Santelli to publicly distance himself from the Tea Party movement and cancel his Daily Show appearance.
Read other takedowns of the Koch brothers by Levine and Ames…