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Your good deed for this particular time period

Roderick Long is getting worked over by the Alabama Department of Revenue. It's serious. Please help if you're able.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. vs. the Cambridge PD

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was recently arrested trying to get into his own house, the front door of which was jammed. One of his neighbors called the police to say that two black men (who were actually Gates and his Moroccan driver) were trying to break into the house, and the police didn't leave even after Gates showed his ID and explained that it was his house. Instead, these thugs kept grilling him, and in response he "exhibited loud and tumultuous behaviour", which in Copland is automatic grounds for arrest.

Gates is rare among victims of aggressive police officers in that he is well-connected; three of his Harvard colleagues showed up to the station to bail him out. He has this to say:

"I am appalled that any American could be treated as capriciously by an individual police officer. He should look into his soul and he should apologize to me," Gates said. "If so, I will be prepared to forgive him. I think that poor people in general and black people in general are vulnerable to the whims of rogue cops, and we all have to fight to protect the weakest among us. No matter how bad it was going to get, I knew that sooner or later I would get to a phone and one of my friends would be there to help."

Re-read that last sentence and imagine if Gates were not a Harvard professor: he'd be alone, and he'd be charged and convicted like any other police victim, instead of having the charges dropped by the embarrassed Cambridge police department. He'd be bullied some more along the way. He'd be just another sucker as far as the police were concerned.

I only wish he'd put two and two together: systematic racism in the police force, abuse by individual officers...maybe, just maybe, the abuse is systematic too.

Shays, servant of the powerful

Via Clusterstock, the Wall Street Journal reports on one of CIT's maneuvers attempting to get themselves a bailout:

CIT had been trying for months to improve its connections in Washington. It spent close to $90,000 last year on lobbying, and $60,000 in the first quarter of 2009. It brought onto its board of directors former Congressman Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican.

Yes, that's Chris Shays, of Shays-Meehan fame, or legally speaking, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. You know, the one that masqueraded as a way to keep money out of politics? The one that actually served the interests of the ruling class while a whole army of useful idiots pontificated about democracy?

Summer news

If you don't read The Orwell Diaries, you might give it a look. It's a blog that's publishing George Orwell's diary entries 70 years to the day after he wrote them. Seventy years before this summer was the summer leading up to World War II, so there should be plenty of interesting updates coming.

Also, this year's Tour de France is killing me. Other than Mark Cavendish, certified badass, where's the action?

My unenthusiastic acceptance of Jimmy Carter's latest news item

From The Guardian, via Jezebel, via a friend, I see that Jimmy Carter has quit the Southern Baptist Convention due to a theological and political dispute:

So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief - confirmed in the holy scriptures - that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

Good old Mr. Carter cites verse in defense of his position:

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

The trouble is, each side can quote passages endlessly to justify its position. If you take the humanist perspective and think that this document was created over a long period by many people with many different points of view and agendas, it makes total sense that parts could conflict, but you also wouldn't look to this document as a source of infallible wisdom. If you take the supernatural perspective, well, God help you figure it out.

For all the people who got overexcited by Carter's statements, here's the danger of religious alliances in favor of political goals. A person could reasonably conclude based on reading the Bible that women should be subordinate to men, even though I think this position is unreasonable based on other sources of moral information--dare I say, better sources. But accepting Jimmy Carter's theology as a partner in the fight against oppression means giving weight to his reasoning, and his interpretation of the Bible might not be the correct one.

That is, assuming there is a correct one. If there's not, then he's out to sea without a rudder, and may sail some other direction during the next dispute. The people who cheer Jimmy Carter today might scorn him tomorrow when he says that Jesus never intended for gays to marry, or that we should aid and train the Mujahideen against the Soviets, or whatever else will come up. [He does, however, support civil unions.]

Or it could be that he knows oppression for the evil it is, and this colors his theology. If that's the case, then his theology is irrelevant anyway.

It's like in a movie when the victims are completely oblivious to the killer walking up loudly behind them

Clusterstock brings to my attention Matthew Yglesias's announcement that, in a situation parallel to the Bootleggers and Baptists case, Wal-Mart and the Center for American Progress have reached an agreement supporting a law that obligates employers to pay for their employees' health care. Yglesias writes:

The highly ideological behavior of the business community, and high degree of class solidarity exhibited by the executive class, has been a hugely important element of the story of American politics over the past thirty years or so. The willingness of much of the business community to break with Chamber ideology on Waxman-Markey and now on health care is an important sign of change in the air.

Pardon me, but LMFAO!!!1

Does anyone think Wal-Mart executives really had a change of heart? It boggles my mind to realize that some people who've been criticizing Wal-Mart as conniving and underhanded now think they've repented. Really? Wal-Mart executives are having a roaring good laugh about this.

Not to mention that bit about "change in the air". Obama really is one of the greats in the art of deception.

If anyone is new around here, it breaks down like this: the Center for American Progress supports this because they think it will make health care more available to employees. Wal-Mart supports this legislation because, if passed, it would make things harder for smaller business that might become competitors, businesses that have less money and less weight to throw around than Wal-Mart. This giant company gets to appear progressive, garnering good will, and screw smaller competitors (current and possible) at the same time! Naïve organizations get surprised by this and demand new controls next time around, but the affected industries co-opt their plans again.

Side note, from Clusterstock:

The other problem: Employer-based health insurance sucks! It's terrible for worker mobility, creating economic stagnation by locking employees into their jobs, while discouraging workers from startups and other small businesses that don't have the scale to buy healthcare in the beginning. Even Obama's said he doesn't think the scheme -- which was developed as a way to get around WWII price controls -- makes a lot of sense.

Viva Argentina

Word around the campfire is that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford was missing for a few days...having an affair with an Argentine woman. Alls I have to say is that if you're going to have an affair, you might as well pick the country with the most beautiful women in the world.

Recipe for disaster, again

The financial blog Clusterstock discusses Martin Wolf's latest piece in the Financial Times. The money quote:

At the heart of the financial industry are highly leveraged businesses. Their central activity is creating and trading assets of uncertain value, while their liabilities are, as we have been reminded, guaranteed by the state. This is a licence to gamble with taxpayers’ money. The mystery is that crises erupt so rarely.

In what way can these meaningfully be called private business when their liabilities are shielded from market conditions by the most anti-market of institutions? As he says, the crisis is not the surprise.

Where nationalism and socialism really do meet

William Easterly takes on the most deluded of all agencies connected with foreign development: the US military. After some choice quotes from the US Army Stability Operations Field Manual, he concludes,

The danger is that, if put into practice, such delusions create excessive ambition, which creates excessive use of military force, which kills real human beings, Afghans and Iraqis.

US Army and Defense Department thinkers – please go back to the drawing board. Think about American values that guide us at home. These values don’t include utopian social engineering, and certainly not by outside armies.

The next Iranian revolution?

Must-see photos of Iranian election protests, via Radley Balko.

Obama: numbers confuse me

Obama: Government could go broke if healthcare not fixed

Could go broke? That would be outrageous!

Public failure, private success

On the Mises blog, Jeff Tucker writes about economist Elgin Groseclose and his research on the Fed: "He shows that the gap between the promise and the reality is shockingly massive, so much so that the Federal Reserve must be considered one of the greatest failures in the history of public policy."

Tucker and I feel the same way about the Fed, so I assume without too much investigation that I'll agree with Groseclose more or less, but I do want to quibble here. And not just here, but all over the political economic map. It's something I've wanted to say a hundred times before: government programs do not fail nearly as much as we think. They fail spectacularly in terms of their publicly-stated missions of aiding the common good in their own ways, but the people that conceive the programs are generally clever people, and I suspect they know what they're doing most of the time. Take any industry lobby, for instance, and you'll see it's probably behind a lot of harm to the American and world economies. If its mission were to help either or both of these we'd know they messed up. But their mission is to help themselves at our expense, and in that respect they're doing a grand job.

Likewise, I believe that the banking interests and their government friends that set up the Fed knew what they were doing. They might not have foreseen everything, but they knew the banking cartel would benefit. Mission accomplished.

I could be accused of cynicism for this position. Of course, I don't see it that way.

Twenty years ago

Twenty years ago were twin challenges to communism: a large rally in Tiananmen Square in Beijing and a vote in Poland. Solidarność beat the Communist Party in Poland, ending the communist era there. The Chinese government ran wild on the protesters--their victory will come later.

Also this year for the first time, a new picture of the Tiananmen tank man was released. Full story here.

Buying and selling a bastard vote

There's a new post on Public Reason about vote buying/selling. Jason Brennan argues: "So long as Alf is justified in voting a particular way for free, then it’s permissible for him to take money to vote that way and it’s permissible to pay him to vote that way."

I'm sure Brennan has written elsewhere about how a person can be justified in voting in the first place, but to me this issue seems like a lot of needless hand-wringing. A lot of the theorizing about vote buying/selling uses the caveat that the voting itself must be for the common good, but what does that mean? If the person intends the common good and believes that his vote contributes to it, that's commendable, but doesn't the voter also have a duty to see if his belief is justified? I gather that a lot of Obama's voters were anti-war, anti-torture, and anti-corporate welfare, but to the extent that their vote actually mattered, they ended up supporting all those things instead.