Friday, July 30, 2010

Chromefishtians: It's nice when you can see them coming.

I disapprove of chromefishtians.
I call them that to set them apart from people that have read, understood
and follow the things Christ actually said.

H/t William K. Wolfram
To paraphrase Louis CK – it’s true, people are just different in Oklahoma.
Yep, I do adore it when people who stand foresquare against doing one single damn thing Jesus ever said to do, in regard to the poor, the suffering, the orphan, the widow and the stranger at your gate promanently label themselves so you can quietly choose to do business with someone reputable.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Crisis In the RCMP: A Musical Run-around

A Canadian Icon, the world around. Photo Credit: Mrs Logic
The RCMP are not just a police force. They are an iconic organization, inextricable from our collective identity as Canadians. 

We expect them to do far more, with far less, with more scrutiny than others and we expect them to do all this while serving as one of the great symbols of our nation. 

The great difference between police in other nations (and indeed, even other Canadian police forces) and the RCMP is that to some degree, people think of police in general as "them," while somehow, the RCMP are seen as "us."

Astonishingly, this works. More often than not, members of the RCMP live up to this impossible standard with elan. And while everyone knows it's an impossible ideal, that could only be achieved in film and story... it's amazing how far trying can take you.

So, when the RCMP fucks up, when it's members do things that are very much beneath the standards of outcome that we expect... well, if you happen to be an American... imagine having your flag spit on you!

We. Are. NOT. Pleased.

This leads me to a couple of open questions which seem to be illustrated by problems within the RCMP. There do seem to be long-standing issues that needed to be addressed. But things are clearly becoming worse, rather than better and that the result of the Steven Harper Government and it's Authoritarian brand of Conservatism, a philosophy which seems more and more radical and autocratic as each day passes.

You see, in Canada (and I would like to think that would be true in all civil contexts), respect is earned, authority is granted to the able and worthy; trust is cultivated and traditions that maintain and enhance trust in institutions that are worth trusting are diligently maintained and preserved.

Progress in all realms, social and political, is made by building upon foundations well-laid in the past. The RCMP are one of our cornerstones. There is more than a little concious myth-making involved here. These are the stories we tell each other that state who we are as a Nation, as a People, as Canadians. It is what we want our children to aspire to. It is an example we strive to live up to. It speaks to us of our commitment as a people to what outcomes we expect.

We do not wish to have an adversarial relationship with our police, nor may they ever become the iron fist of autocratic power.

Peace. Order. Good Government. THAT is our ideal. There can be no peace, order or good government when government sees itself as above their fellow Canadians, indifferent to their welfare and without need of their good will.

So when a civilian bureocrat is appointed as the "top cop" by a Canadian Prime Minister, you would reasonably draw a number of conclusions.

First, that the institutional structure of the RCMP is considered to be part of the problem, and that "fresh eyes" are in fact honouring an exception to the rule in the breach of it.

And second, despite his outsider status and perspective, that person would be selected due to being an exemplar of the values we hold; someone who was willing and able, conciously and tempermentally, to earn the trust and respect of this iconic force. Someone extraordinary, in other words, with the skills, perspectives and background to bring such an important institution back on track.

Well, no such luck there. The CBC reports:
Senior RCMP members have complained about Commissioner William Elliott to some of the highest levels of the federal government on two separate occasions in the past seven days, CBC News has learned.

Senior RCMP members have complained about Commissioner William Elliott to some of the highest levels of government on two separate occasions in the past week. (Canadian Press)
The complainants, possibly as many as 10, include some of the force's top officers, including deputy commissioners Tim Killam and Raf Souccar.

They have accused Elliott of being verbally abusive, closed-minded, arrogant and insulting. One complaint described Elliott, who became the first civilian to head the Mounties in July 2007, in a rage, throwing papers at another officer.

The Prime Minister's Office didn't deny the complaints were made but declined to comment Monday. Neither Elliott nor the deputies would comment.

"The RCMP is a very hierarchical organization, where people respect the rank," said Linda Duxbury, a professor at Carleton University who wrote a study on the Mounties and their command.

For members to go outside the force with "a complaint against the head of the RCMP means that many people have been pushed beyond a point where they're willing to tolerate it," she said.

Fate rests with PM

The apparent protest against the commissioner comes a month after Canada's top spy, CSIS director Richard Fadden, made comments to CBC News that the agency had two provincial cabinet ministers and a number of municipal politicians under surveillance for their relationships with foreign governments.

Both Elliott and Fadden were appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and their fate rests with him. The CBC's Brian Stewart, who has followed the Mounties for decades, said the RCMP protest is unprecedented.

Harper will have to sort out whether this is a valid protest by top RCMP staff or whether Elliott has made a lot of enemies trying to reform the organization, he said.

"That's what the prime minister is probably going to have to sort out very quickly and then decide, I think, which force is going to have to go: either the commissioner or the group protesting against him," Stewart said.

Now, I'm sure there are many problems and I'm equally sure there is more than enough blame to go around. However - and of all people, Mr. Harper should understand this - how you go about dealing with a problem, and how your approach is perceived by the people and institutions you see as being problematic may well make it impossible to do anything useful whatsoever.

Further, I think it a fair observation that, given the nature of Mr. Harper's missteps, his vision of what Government is and who it is intended to benefit is to some measure divergent from the ordinary Canadian. In particular, his repeated Prorogues of Parliament have been seen, by this writer, at least, as an unwillingness to be held to account.

This leads me to suspect a lack of accounting skills as well as a willingness to be seen as a cheat, so long as the cheat happens to work for a while. A man, in other words, unwilling or unable to live up to the expectations of his station. Not a leader, an overseer. Not an authority, but an Authoritarian. One who expects the tug of a forelock as his due.

I'm starting to think of Mr. Harper as being not so much a bad Conservative as a moderately decent Republican, sharing the general Republican distaste for a government that might inconvenience powerful sponsors and donors.  He seems willing to advantage cronies and the like-minded without any regard to an overall understanding of or respect for our traditions, our history, or the rather marvellous and beautiful place that Canada has become. And his response to criticism is at best evasive, and at worst amounts to, "oh yeah, whatcha gonna do about it?"

Canada became what it is despite people like Steven Harper. I very much do not wish to see us go down the path our southern cousins have taken, where the mere suggestion that the fortunate have some investment in or measure of duty toward their less fortunate neighbours is assailed in terms so ugly and intemperate that I can barely abide reading it. What decent person would wish to live in a society defined by the Sarah Palins and Andrew Brietbarts of this world, who think of these reprehensible and uncivilized persons as exemplars of citizenship? How could you be comfortable with any end that could be achieved by such means?

No doubt the lure of power without the need for proper accounts of it's use is tempting. It is ever so much easier to rule a people who see the abuse of power as being emblematic of power, and wish you to do more of it on their behalf, in order to justify their own lack of character.

To me, I'm reminded of people who spend twenty or thirty thousand dollars "investing" in a commercial grade kitchen, to be used only for microwaving hot-pockets and noodle cups. I'm not interested in voting for a man who's every ambition is fulfilled by being called Mister Prime Minister and who will consider his legacy complete by having had the opportunity to repay a few old grudges or engage in some theatrical warfare. There must be a substance evidenced by the appearances - and I do not believe our current crop of Conservatives understand as a party that there is a distinction to be made there.

But that brings me back to the RCMP an institution that is entwined with our entire concept of the rule of law and our high expectations of ourselves. We need them to find themselves again, for their loss in that regard is ours; clearly, we need a leadership that actually understand how and why our nation has been governed as it has long been, and to what ends and to what ideals and for who's benefit that governance is each Canadian's rightful due.

We have no need and will gain no benefit from a slavish imitation of how things are done by a rulebook written in a borrowed stateroom of a yacht owned by some US Neo-conservative think tank. A man who would be welcomed at the C-Street Church has no place within any proper Canadian political party.

I anticipate the next election with no little pleasure.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Glenn Beck, Goldline, Fools and their Money

The title is derived from lines from
two earlier films. In Poppy (1936),
he tells his daughter, "If we
should ever separate, my little plum,
I want to give you just one bit
of fatherly advice:
Never give a sucker an even break!"
 he tells a customer that his
grandfather's last words,
"just before they sprung the trap" were,
"You can't cheat an honest man;
never give a sucker an even break,
or smarten up a chump."

"Never give a sucker an even break." may well have been my father's motto, and it evidently is Glenn Beck's. It strikes me as odd how much the two of them resemble each other - and W.C. Fields.

The infographic below gives a simple and brutal explanation of how Beck's confidence game works. It's one of the oldest scams on the books, and I learned it at my father's knee.

  • Convince the audience that there's an urgent need or crisis they were unaware of. 
  • Assure them that only they are lucky or smart enough to hear of this dread condition, that is is being concealed, suppressed by means of conspiracy or ignored by "the ignorant and easily led."
  • Produce some glossy hype that shows, beyond doubt, how this particular nostrum will grow your hair, clean your oven, boost your libido and attract a mate, all without needing to wear gloves! You don't even need to think about it, the benefits are so obvious!
  • Convince the mark that the matter is so urgent and the need so great that they cannot afford to wait, they must call that number right now.
  • Try to find an "intangible" value that a court can not convict you of misrepresenting. That is to say, it would be fraud to sell 100 dollars worth of gold for 300 dollars as a good investment. But "investment grade collector's coins" have an intangible value that is defined as what the buyer is willing to pay.

Infographic by The Big Picture
That's a point brutally made in the infographic - and it's a point authorities seem willing to debate in front of a judge.
"Goldline International is under investigation by the Santa Monica City Attorney’s office, jointly with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, as well as being the subject of a separate investigation by Congress into the possible criminal practices. The firm has been the subject of an ABC Nightline News Exposé, as well as an investigation by NY Congressman Weiner).
Goldline is not selling gold bullion. It's selling gold coins with some (debatable) collector's value, at a mark-up that would make an ordinary coin dealer gape in envy.

When the Zombie Apocalypse comes and you need to barter gold for food and shotgun shells - nobody will give a damn about the collector's value of your gold coins. They will want to know what it's purity is. And for that, dear people, you want to buy Canadian Maple Leaves or Credit Suisse bars at an reputable gold brokerage, assuming, of course, you credit the idea that an ounce of gold is likely to be worth as much as a case of whiskey or a box of shotgun shells.

Me, I'd hedge my investments with a solar power rig and a "ethanol fuel distillation apparatus," if you take my meaning. After the Zombie Apocalypse - well, the BATF will probably have it's hands full.

Mind you, I really have little sympathy for those making investment decisions on the advice of a known and famous liar.

W.C. Fields was right as far as he went, but my father was of the opinion that sheering such a flock was almost a civic duty; that it was the only way to "smarten up a chump."

But he married a chump, and she never did. She would just move on to the next confidence man, thinking each one in turn would have the Instant Answer To Everything. And were she alive today... she'd be telling me all about how I should be buying gold, to hedge against the inevitable decline of the communistic fools paradise I live in.

I think it wiser to vote for "someone smart."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Does Steven Harper gets his ideas from Glenn Beck?

How to annoy Glenn Beck in five minutes or less

Want to annoy Fox News' Glenn Beck in five minutes or less while simultaneously making sure your community gets its fair share of federal money? Fill out and return the 2010 U.S. Census questionnaire when it arrives in your mailbox.
Few other issues seem to whip media conservatives into a frenzy of misinformation and half-baked conspiracy theories like the decennial count of Americans.
You see, for the world of "conservative journalism," the census is a manifestation of everything they fear. Put yourself in their shoes: Obama's administration is hell-bent on imposing a socialist-fascist-communist-totalitarian-Marxist police state, and now he's sending us all mail! Even worse, Obama's thugs may show up at your door to get a more accurate count.
Why wait for the third installment of the Twilight franchise when you've got these scary bloodsuckers wanting to ... gulp ... count you?
To hear Beck tell it, the Census is just part of the "modern day slave state." Hardly surprising for a man who has called President Obama a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people" and claimed Obama's policies in general are driven by little more than "reparations" and a desire to "settle old racial scores."

Now, if this seems familiar - perhaps by reading comment threads - you also have a fair idea of where such ideas are coming from, and more to the point, to what demographic they are intended to pander.

Against the idea of the census? It's not just stupid, it's Glenn Beck Stupid. 

Sara Palin's House, as seen from Taiwan

"Ah wad some power the giftie gie us
To see ourselves as others see us."
— Robert (the stupid, it) Burns

The Courtship of Eddie's Ideology

Given the way politics have been drifting
in the direction of NeoConservatism
and NeoFeudalism,
I think Edmund Burke himself
would consider crossing the aisle.
I get excited when I stumble across something that appeals to my own confirmation bias.... I mean, my nuanced, principled and well-founded view of our social, economic and political landscapes. Nice Guy Eddie brings the heat...
Since I don't let an ideology do my thinking for me, I don't really care what positions fall under which label. I really, just DON'T CARE. I'm not trying to Liberal here, I'm just trying to be RIGHT. (As in "correct," not "wing.") And the way I see our modern discourse going, there are really only two groups:
One is very strictly and narrowly defined, and I've written about them here here here and here, for example. And to be with this crowd, you must accept EVERY bit of Dogma, even the ones that contradict other ones, you must swallow every lie, accept every bit of obviously questionable evidence, and utterly reject ANY evidence or argument to the contrary of ANY point. What's more you must accuse your opponents of committing all of the sins you do, and you must HATE them, because they are out to destroy this country. You must believe in your own perfection and the perfection of your positions and that you have a mandate from God that justifies this belief. At worst, the weakest in this camp merely keep quiet, fail to criticise the big-talkers, and silently tell themselves that it will all, somehow be OK, since at least the OTHER GUY'S not winning. 
Then they're are people who can't abide this kind of insanity. And almost regardless of what positions they actually hold, the people in the first camp call them "Liberals" and demonize them.
So, from my POV, there are really on two school's of thought: Radical, Right-Wing Reactionary Authoritarianism... ...and those who reject it.

They have robbed the words "conservative" and "liberal" of any real meaning. Not that I care... I don't really buy into labels... ...which apparently makes me a Liberal.
This is rather what I was thinking when I wrote Crossing the Aisle in Defense of the the Social Contract over at Politicususa..

...[T]hey founded both a nation and established a Constitution that was, indeed, a codified social contract, remarkably well-annotated as to it’s intent, as perfect as the times permitted and designed to allow amendments as times and and need required. It was a recognition that the individual was the foundation of and the entire rationale for the state, that all justice and all rationale for governance flowed from them.  When that essential truth is lost, when position and power depend upon the whims of a foreign court or personal fortunes, there is no such thing as liberty;  merely degrees of licence, of increasing expense and exclusivity.
Granted, these ideas were indeed Liberal.  Scandalously so. But that was more than 200 years ago and in general, it has worked out well. The principles of the American Revolution – it’s foundational ideas – have taken root worldwide, and not so much due to might, but due to the fact that it works. And as a person of reflexively conservative nature, I assert:“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
All that is required is the acceptance that all people are of inherent worth, that each is due individual respect from their peers and their governments and that each person is to be presumed, unless otherwise demonstrated, capable of moral agency, and that the principle duty of government is in fact to safeguard and expand that liberty.
I once thought this to be the great common understanding of Conservatism. For that document is foundational to the social compact that is the United States. The principles it’s based in are basic to what every other Conservative who does not dismiss the Enlightenment as a brief aberration are the essence of Western Civilization. The rule of law, the concept of the inalienable rights of man and, yes, a sharp separation between Church and State, lest the two be come one thing that serves neither end at all well. That, if you might recall, casting back on most of human history, is a nearly unavoidable  conclusion.
At any rate, if a Social Contract is Liberal while ditching the Constitution and the New Deal is Conservative – I guess it’s time for me to cross the Aisle.
 There's been a good deal of musing online about what truly is meant by freedom and liberty. As the Tea Party sorts quite reasonably point out, the whole movement was started by Libertarians. And whatever you may feel about Libertarians in general, it is indisputable that Libertarianism places a great deal of emphasis on individual liberty. An excerpt from this wonderful article, Conservatives v. Libertarians: the debate over judicial activism divides former allies, illustrates the tensions within what often seems to be a monolith of "No."

One of the first libertarians to challenge the conservatives' pro-government stance was the political scientist Stephen Macedo, who wrote a short book for the Cato Institute in 1986 with the provocative title The New Right v. The Constitution. Macedo argued that Bork, Meese, and their allies had turned the American system on its head. As he put it, "When conservatives like Bork treat rights as islands surrounded by a sea of government powers, they precisely reverse the view of the Founders as enshrined in the Constitution, wherein government powers are limited and specified and rendered as islands surrounded by a sea of individual rights."

It would be difficult to overstate the role that the Cato Institute has played in critiquing Bork's majoritarian conservatism and in pushing the conservative legal movement in a more libertarian direction. In addition to publishing Macedo's book and producing numerous widely read articles and studies, Cato hosted a seminal October 1984 conference devoted to the topic of "Economic Liberties and the Constitution" Among the participants were the University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein, who argued that the judiciary should play an active role in defending economic liberty (much as it did in Lochner), and Antonin Scalia, then a federal appeals court judge, who advanced the Borkean view that the courts should defer to the political branches on such matters. "The Supreme Court decisions rejecting substantive due process in the economic field are clear, unequivocal and current," Scalia declared. He added that "in my view the position the Supreme Court has arrived at is good--or at least that the suggestion that it change its position is even worse."

In response, Epstein argued that under the Scalia-Bork interpretation, "it is up to Congress and the states to determine the limitations of their own power--which, of course, totally subverts the original constitutional arrangement of limited government." The Scalia-Bork view, Epstein said, ignores the Constitution's "many broad and powerful clauses designed to limit the jurisdiction of both federal and state governments," such as the Commerce Clause, which authorizes Congress to "regulate commerce ... among the several states." He said the Borkeans also ignore clauses "designed to limit what the states and the federal government can do within the scope of their admitted power," such as the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause, which says private property may not be taken for public use without "just compensation," and the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause (on which Lochner relied) and Privileges or Immunities Clause, which says states may not "abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens." Taking those provisions seriously, Epstein argued, requires "some movement in the direction of judicial activism" on behalf of economic rights.

This debate brought the conservative-libertarian divide into the spotlight. "That's why the conference was so important as a benchmark," Roger Pilon says. "For the first time, libertarians threw down the gauntlet."
Now, of course economic liberty is an important concept. But economic liberty is not the only form of liberty; indeed, if it's restricted only to the concepts of income and property, it essentially defines most people as being relatively un-free. This is why more left-leaning Libertarians take the seemingly surprising step of supporting collectively-funded, single payer health-care and indeed, something along the lines of a Guaranteed Annual Income. After all, if you do believe that economic freedom is fundamental - then obviously it must cost something to ensure.

The thing that these policies reflect is not any particular bias in favor the poor and disadvantaged, but rather the idea that Liberty is a social good, that enabling people to make a wider degree of choices will tend to ensure that more people will tend to make better ones and that regardless of your philosophy of poverty and it's origins, and inarguably, there are associated costs to society that are utterly unavoidable. Policy simply changes the way in which society will be impacted by the poor.

So you can either pay the poor to be somewhat less impoverished, in a way that also eliminates entire administrative functions designed to target and support depressed local economies, or you can take a more punitive approach - and end up paying far more in terms of urban blight, policing costs, survival - level crime and gang activity that exists to resist and replace an adverserial govenment that sees the poor as a problem to be contained, rather than as citizens with rights.

This is an excellent illustration of the term "inalienable rights" and a practical application of what a "well armed militia" is and was understood to be when the Second Amendment to the US Constitution was crafted. An inalienable right is something that a government may not rightfully nor meaningfully forbid, for there is no legitimate, practical nor cost-effective means of doing so. A law that will cause tension and conflict to the degree that it is enforced, with those it is enforced against, is not just law.

If people are oppressed or feel threatened, they will band together and will strike out at the perceived threat if they must, or to the degree they may, subvert and evade it's effect, generally at the price of far more social cost than that which the law was said to address, with the additional effect that widespread disrespect for the law will undermine the rule of law itself.

Therefore, it's to be understood that the very first principle of good government is to not startle the citizens, nor make them feel that they are regarded in a fundamentally different way than their neighbours, on the other side of the tracks.

Quite aside from "right and wrong" or "right and left," the founders understood that this was the very sort of thing that led to a situation that precluded any meaningful governance at all.

I've referred to the current strain of public policy in the US (and distressingly, in Canada) as "The Galligher School"

Even if every single thing D.A.R.E. and the various "drug warriors" said about slippery slopes and inappropriateness for medical use were factual (a matter of some considerable dispute between those who care more than I, one way or the other), the unregulated consequences predicted by the pearl-clutching nannies would still be less severe than the current state of affairs.

This is leaving aside the entire question as to whether people should be "permitted" to use drugs - since it's clearly failed to change drug usage in any detectable way, it's my presumption that the war is exactly what it seems to be - an ongoing war against people, and that the violence and repression is not a means to an end, it is the entire point.

I refer to it as the "Bigger Hammer" theory of governance. If things don't go as you desire, if people don't behave as you think they should, pull out your 
biggest hammer and hit them as hard as you can. I'm quite certain I've referred to it as the Gallagher School of Public Policy. I had no actual idea at the time that it is also Gallagher's idea of Public Policy. Go figure.

So like I said above, the whole point is to smash shit. That's the whole act. Smash shit, say something viciously stupid, and the audience laughs nervously. Confuse that with approval, and carry on.
Arguably, that could be described as what the situation is, in the Untied States - an evident lack of meaningful, effective government, at vast expense, to contrary ends, with no respect for either the economic or personal liberties of any person. And I do honor the Tea Party folks for initially recognizing the issue... but at the moment, their reflexive policy is not political, it is cultural. And their culture - akin to many on the Left, like the Black Bloc - is to simply smash shit they don't like.

I'm a Canadian. I believe that when Ronald Regan popularized the idea that "government is the enemy", that government was unable to help people - well, it was in many ways true. But that's not an inherent problem. It's  a problem in regard to structure, education, regulation and training. It's a confusion about goals, and a long standing and perverse idea that the purpose of government is to fuck with this group of individuals in order to benefit either the largest number of other individuals, or a small number of wealthy ones.

Both ideals are wrong - aside from the morality of it; aside from the principles, or the Constitutionality. Look around you. See the effects on the people you know, the places you travel, the way things were 20 years ago compared to how they are today. These ideas are wrong because they do not work.


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