Friday, December 28, 2007

Smoke and Mirrors
...Given all that, it may seem churlish to suggest that firefighters might not deserve the lofty pedestal we so insistently place them on. We lionize them, regard them as unsullied by base motivations, see them as paragons of manliness (and very tough womanliness). They're easily our most-admired public servants, and in the public's eye probably outrank just about anyone except the most highly publicized war veterans. But the "hero" label is tossed around a little too often when the subject is firefighting. Here's why:...

...None of this is meant to dispute that firefighters are valuable to the communities in which they work. They are. But our society is packed with unheralded heroes—small-town physicians, teachers in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, people who work in dirty, dangerous jobs like coal-mining to support a family. A firefighter plunging into a burning house to retrieve a frightened, smoke-blinded child is a hero. But let's save the encomiums for when they are truly deserved, not when they just show up to do their job.

Just How Dangerous Is Police Work?
...So just how dangerous is police work? Generally, police are about three times as likely to be killed on the job as the average American. It isn't among the top ten most dangerous professions, falling well behind logging, fishing, driving a cab, trash collecting, farming, and truck driving. Moreover, about half of police killed on the job are killed in traffic accidents, and most of those are not while in pursuit of a criminal or rushing to the scene of a crime. I don't point this out to diminish the tragedy of those cops killed in routine traffic accidents. My point is that the number of annual on-the-job police fatalities doesn't justify giving cops bigger guns, military equipment, and allowing them to use more aggressive and increasingly militaristic tactics. A military-issue weapon isn't going to prevent traffic accidents. In this context, then, it makes sense to remove from consideration deaths not directly attributable to the bad guys.

So take out traffic accidents and other non-violent deaths, and you're left with 69 officers killed on the job by criminals last year. That's out of about 850,000 officers nationwide. That breaks down to about 8 deaths per 100,000 officers, or less than twice the national average of on-the-job fatalities. ...

...Twice the national average means police work certainly carries added risk. But is it the kind of risk that justifies, for example, a more than 1,000 percent increase in the use of SWAT teams over the last 25 years?...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Editorial: Guilty until proven innocent
Luther Ricks Sr., to put it mildly, is living the American Nightmare. What else can you call it when police take your money because they’re suspicious you’re selling drugs, then fail either to file charges or to return your money?

Public pressure isn’t likely to help Ricks get back what is his. Ricks needs a lawyer — but the government has depleted his means of hiring one. What he also needs is his congressman to try to intervene on his behalf. U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, should involve himself in pressing the FBI to return the money to his constituent.

The Lima Police Department, which originally seized Ricks’ money, cannot get it back from the FBI.

Two robbers broke into his home June 30, attacking Ricks and his son. One of the robbers stabbed Ricks’ son. Ricks broke free and shot to death one of the attackers, 22-year-old Jyhno Rock.

A man’s home is his castle, after all — well, at least when it’s not the government that’s doing the busting in. The American Nightmare has only begun.

Lima police took $402,767 Ricks had in his house because they found a small amount of marijuana, which Ricks said he uses to manage pain from arthritis, shingles and a hip replacement. Ricks, 63, said he and his wife, Meredith, saved the money over their lifetimes, during which both worked but never opened a bank account.

The American Nightmare continues.

The FBI then took the money from the Lima Police Department. Ricks has not been charged with a crime for the marijuana. He has been cleared in the shooting death of Rock. Yet the FBI doesn’t intend to give him his money back.

Jeff Gamso, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, told The Lima News that Ricks has a tough fight ahead of him. “The law of forfeiture basically says you have to prove you’re innocent. It’s a terrible, terrible law,” Gamso said. That’s not hopeful — for Ricks or for the American tradition....

Has global warming stopped?
'The fact is that the global temperature of 2007 is statistically the same as 2006 and every year since 2001'

Global warming stopped? Surely not. What heresy is this? Haven’t we been told that the science of global warming is settled beyond doubt and that all that’s left to the so-called sceptics is the odd errant glacier that refuses to melt?

Aren’t we told that if we don’t act now rising temperatures will render most of the surface of the Earth uninhabitable within our lifetimes? But as we digest these apocalyptic comments, read the recent IPCC’s Synthesis report that says climate change could become irreversible. Witness the drama at Bali as news emerges that something is not quite right in the global warming camp.

With only few days remaining in 2007, the indications are the global temperature for this year is the same as that for 2006 – there has been no warming over the 12 months.

But is this just a blip in the ever upward trend you may ask? No.

The fact is that the global temperature of 2007 is statistically the same as 2006 as well as every year since 2001. Global warming has, temporarily or permanently, ceased. Temperatures across the world are not increasing as they should according to the fundamental theory behind global warming – the greenhouse effect. Something else is happening and it is vital that we find out what or else we may spend hundreds of billions of pounds needlessly....

...The period 1980-98 was one of rapid warming – a temperature increase of about 0.5 degrees C (CO2 rose from 340ppm to 370ppm). But since then the global temperature has been flat (whilst the CO2 has relentlessly risen from 370ppm to 380ppm). This means that the global temperature today is about 0.3 deg less than it would have been had the rapid increase continued.

For the past decade the world has not warmed. Global warming has stopped. It’s not a viewpoint or a sceptic’s inaccuracy. It’s an observational fact. Clearly the world of the past 30 years is warmer than the previous decades and there is abundant evidence (in the northern hemisphere at least) that the world is responding to those elevated temperatures. But the evidence shows that global warming as such has ceased. ...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Descendants of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse break away from US
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The Lakota Indians, who gave the world legendary warriors Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, have withdrawn from treaties with the United States, leaders said Wednesday.

"We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us," long-time Indian rights activist Russell Means told a handful of reporters and a delegation from the Bolivian embassy, gathered in a church in a run-down neighborhood of Washington for a news conference.

A delegation of Lakota leaders delivered a message to the State Department on Monday, announcing they were unilaterally withdrawing from treaties they signed with the federal government of the United States, some of them more than 150 years old....

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Heat From Earth's Magma Contributing To Melting Of Greenland Ice
ScienceDaily (Dec. 18, 2007) — Scientists have discovered what they think may be another reason why Greenland 's ice is melting: a thin spot in Earth's crust is enabling underground magma to heat the ice....

Al Gore: The world can't wait for George Bush
...I want you to tell them that you saw it as a privilege to be alive at a moment when a relatively small group of people could control the destiny of all generations to come....

A Fiscal Picture That Calls for Exclamation Points
...The federal government's total liabilities and unfunded commitments for future benefits payments promised under the current Social Security and Medicare programs are now estimated at $53 trillion, in current dollar terms, up from about $20 trillion in 2000. This translates into a defacto mortgage of about $455,000 for every American household and there's no house to back this mortgage! In other words, our government has made a whole lot of promises that, in the long run, it cannot possibly keep without huge tax increases.

The Medicare program alone represents about $34 trillion of our current $53 trillion fiscal gap. If there is one thing in particular that could bankrupt America, it's runaway health care costs. And don't forget, the first "baby boomers" will begin to draw their early retirement benefits under Social Security in a couple of weeks! And, just three years later, they will be eligible for Medicare. When "baby boomers" begin to retire in big numbers, it will bring a tsunami of spending that, unlike most tsunamis, will never recede. ...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada
...The extent of Canada’s health system dysfunction was
documented in a 2000 Fraser Institute study that
examined the impact of increases in government
health spending. The study’s analysis revealed that
provinces spending more on health care per person
had neither shorter (nor longer) total waiting times
than those spending less. In addition, those provinces
spending more had no higher rates of surgical specialist
services (consultations plus procedures) and had
lower rates of procedures and major surgeries (Zelder,
2000b). A follow-up study in 2003 found that increased
spending was actually correlated with increases in waiting
times unless those increases in spending were targeted
to physicians or pharmaceuticals (Esmail, 2003).

Finally, the promise of the Canadian health care system
is not being realized. On the contrary, a profusion of
research reveals that cardiovascular surgery queues
are routinely jumped by the famous and politically connected,
that suburban and rural residents confront
barriers to access not encountered by their urban
counterparts, and that low-income Canadians have
less access to specialists, particularly cardiovascular
ones, are less likely to utilize diagnostic imaging, and
have lower cardiovascular and cancer survival rates
than their higher-income neighbours....

...A second qualification is that non-price rationing of a
vital product such as medical services is fair and is perceived
to be fair by society. To the extent that fairness
is an objective, one might argue that non-price rationing
provides collective benefits that outweigh the inefficiencies
identified above. However, depending upon
how the non-price rationing occurs, the resulting distribution
of benefits may not be any improvement
upon the price-rationing outcome. In fact, many inequities
have been discovered in the current system.
Preferential access to cardiovascular surgery on the
basis of “nonclinical factors” such as personal prominence
or political connections is common (see Alter,
Basinski, and Naylor, 1998). As well, residents of suburban
Toronto and Vancouver have been found to experience
longer waiting times than do their urban
counterparts (Ramsay, 1997) and residents of northern
Ontario receive substantially lower travel reimbursement
from the provincial government than do southern
Ontarians when travelling for radiation treatment
(Priest, 2000; and Ombudsman Ontario, 2001). Finally,
low-income Canadians are less likely to visit medical
specialists, including cardiac specialists (Dunlop,
Coyte, and McIsaac, 2000), are less likely to utilize
diagnostic imaging (Demeter et al., 2005), and have
lower cardiac and cancer survival rates (Alter, et al.
1999; Mackillop, 1997) than higher-income Canadians.
This evidence indicates that rationing by waiting is
often a facade for a system of personal privilege, and
perhaps even greater inequality than rationing by

How Poor are the Poor?
...And a closer look at the numbers reveals that even those Americans described as poor aren't as impoverished as the media and many politicians would have us believe. According to my colleague Robert Rector, a Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy, the typical American defined as "poor" by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer and a microwave. He also has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. And in case you are wondering, Rector draws this information from various (and all available to the public) government and public expenditure reports....

Don't fight, adapt
We should give up futile attempts to combat climate change

...Contrary to the impression left by the IPCC Summary reports:

Recent observations of phenomena such as glacial retreats, sea-level rise and the migration of temperature-sensitive species are not evidence for abnormal climate change, for none of these changes has been shown to lie outside the bounds of known natural variability.

The average rate of warming of 0.1 to 0. 2 degrees Celsius per decade recorded by satellites during the late 20th century falls within known natural rates of warming and cooling over the last 10,000 years.

Leading scientists, including some senior IPCC representatives, acknowledge that today's computer models cannot predict climate. Consistent with this, and despite computer projections of temperature rises, there has been no net global warming since 1998. That the current temperature plateau follows a late 20th-century period of warming is consistent with the continuation today of natural multi-decadal or millennial climate cycling....

Sunday, December 16, 2007

WHY WE TORTURE....Responding to yesterday's post about the conservative moral justification for the use of waterboarding, stress positions, etc. against detainees in American custody, one of my conservative correspondents wrote to me this morning to explain why he supports the torture of suspected terrorists...

Wider Spying Fuels Aid Plan for Telecom Industry
WASHINGTON — For months, the Bush administration has waged a high-profile campaign, including personal lobbying by President Bush and closed-door briefings by top officials, to persuade Congress to pass legislation protecting companies from lawsuits for aiding the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program.

But the battle is really about something much bigger. At stake is the federal government’s extensive but uneasy partnership with industry to conduct a wide range of secret surveillance operations in fighting terrorism and crime.

The N.S.A.’s reliance on telecommunications companies is broader and deeper than ever before, according to government and industry officials, yet that alliance is strained by legal worries and the fear of public exposure.

To detect narcotics trafficking, for example, the government has been collecting the phone records of thousands of Americans and others inside the United States who call people in Latin America, according to several government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program remains classified. But in 2004, one major phone carrier balked at turning over its customers’ records. Worried about possible privacy violations or public relations problems, company executives declined to help the operation, which has not been previously disclosed. ...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mapping a gunman’s path (updated)
When it comes to covering the Youth With A Mission shootings, journalists in the mainstream media are still searching for a template to use.

What’s a template? It’s a pattern, an intellectual road map, a set of guiding principles for coverage based on years of experience and previous coverage (especially the coverage in major newsrooms that set the standards for other journalists across the nation).

For example: Let’s say that a heavily armed conservative Christian guns down some worshippers in a congregation affiliated with the pro-gay Metropolitan Community Church after days or weeks of spewing violent, anti-gay language on the Internet. This fits the “hate crime” template.

A white racist blows up a predominantly African-American church. This fits the racism and “hate crime” template.

A Christian attacks a local mosque. Hate crime. A Muslim attacks a local synagogue. This act is transfered over to a more complex template linked to terrorism. It is not simply a hate crime.

If ex-gay activists disrupted a same-sex union in an Episcopal parish, that would be a hate crime. If gay-rights activists disrupt a Mass in a Catholic parish, that fits into a civil-rights protest template. It is not a hate crime....

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Who Pays
The Congressional Budget Office released new data (pdf) yesterday on the burden of federal taxes. The data answers the question: What share of earnings do households at different income levels pay in federal taxes?...

YOUNG LIFE Puts the "Scat" in Eschatology
Police were called when a Christian youth group, Young Life, staged what amounted to an adult baby (ab/dl, or paraphilic infantilism) contest with its young members.

The teenaged boys were taken to a restroom and told put on adult diapers and baby bonnets. They were then instructed to sit in the laps of girls, who spoonfed them baby food, and gave them baby bottles full of soda pop. Whoever finished first would be declared the winner.

The national spokesman for the group, O.J. Wandrisco, called these "icebreakers."

At a previous meeting girls were asked to eat chocolate pudding out of diapers....

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Our Second Amendment: The Founders’ Intent"
...The Amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” For almost two centuries, the understanding was that law-abiding individuals had a right to possess rifles, pistols, and shotguns. This would promote a militia of all able-bodied citizens, which, unlike a standing army, was seen as securing a free country.

The agenda to pass firearms prohibitions led to the invention of the “collective rights” view by the 1960s. Under this view, the Amendment protects only the power of states to have militias. A variation asserts that it guarantees a right to bear arms in the militia, nothing more. These attempts to deconstruct ignore that “the people” means you and me, not the states, and that no “right” exists to do anything in a military force—a militiaman does what is commanded....

Monday, December 10, 2007

Official identifies Colorado attacker as man who `hated Christians'...
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) A law enforcement official in Colorado says the deadly shootings at a megachurch and a missionary training school are believed to have been carried out by the same person.

The official identified the gunman to The Associated Press as 24-year-old Matthew Murray, the son of a distinguished neurologist who is a prominent researcher on multiple sclerosis.

The official says Murray is a suburban Denver man who "hated Christians." ...

...Matthew Murray lived there along with a brother, Christopher, 21, a student at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.

A neighbor, Cody Askeland, 19, said the brothers were home-schooled, describing the whole family as "very, very religious."...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Bali: no more jaw-jaw, this is climate war
...There are those, however, who think a bit of impoverishment is absolutely necessary - and they justify their argument by invoking the spirit and images of war. Madeleine Bunting, writing in Monday’s Guardian, declared that we need to move to ‘a low-consumption economy oriented towards facilitating the real sources of human fulfilment’. She continues:

‘Hearteningly, we know it can be done - our parents and grandparents managed it in the Second World War. This useful analogy, explored by Andrew Simms in his book Ecological Debt, demonstrates the critical role of government. In the early 1940s, a dramatic drop in household consumption was achieved… by the government orchestrating a massive propaganda exercise combined with a rationing system and a luxury tax. This will be the stuff of twenty-first century politics - something that, right now, all the main political parties are much too scared to admit.’ ...

...The war talk over global warming also reflects an increasing desperation on the part of eco-activists, commentators and official environment departments. For them, governments and voters are simply not responding with sufficient panic to this apparent planetary emergency. So they are adopting an hysterical tone to try to get people’s attention. But the bottom line is that most people - quite rightly - do not wish to live under austerity measures. We’re actually rather keen on our material wealth, thank you very much, and we’d rather not live in a society where all sorts of punitive state action can be undertaken in the name of saving the planet....

Who's Afraid of 'Gun Culture'
...It is worth removing the mystique from guns in order to stop the irrational and emotive discussion about them. How dangerous are they? It may sound shocking to note that in 2004 there were 11,624 gun-related homicides in the United States. However, the overall US homicide rate (0.043 deaths per 1000 people per year) is lower than many other countries, including EU members Poland (0.056) and Bulgaria (0.045). And if we compare other statistics in this large country, a clearer picture emerges. There were twice as many unintentional poisonings in 2004 as gun homicides and there were more deaths by falling, too. Why not launch a campaign against oysters or ladders? Statistically, adding a swimming pool to your house is far more dangerous than keeping a gun there. The chances of children being shot at school are less than being struck by lightning at school. As Gary Kleck has pointed out, instead of metal detectors in schools, it would make more sense to equip children with lightning rods (2).

Nor do guns turn people into killers with their magic powers. A survey of state prisoners shows that approximately 50 percent of ‘intimate’ crimes are committed under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Half of those had been drinking for at least six hours. In a study of the victims of near-fatal domestic shootings and stabbings, 78 per cent of the victims volunteered a history of hard-drug use, and 16 per cent admitted using heroin the day of the incident. These were not ordinary people arguing about what television programme to watch (3).

Significantly, fewer than one gun owner in 3,000 commits homicide; and that one killer is far from a typical gun owner. Studies have found two-thirds to four-fifths of homicide offenders have prior arrest records, frequently for violent felonies. A study by the pro-control Police Foundation of domestic homicides in Kansas City in 1977 revealed that in 85 per cent of homicides among family members, the police had been called in before to break up violence. In half the cases, the police had been called in five or more times. State prisoners serving time for ‘intimate’ violence, two-thirds had a prior conviction history. Forty per cent of convicted violent offenders had a ‘criminal justice status’ while committing the crime (eg, on bail or parole).

Besides the myth that guns turn ordinary people into homicidal maniacs, there is the myth that making firearms available to more people raises the homicide rate. By using historical and international comparisons, this myth is easily dispatched. In the first 30 years of the twentieth century, US per capita handgun ownership remained stable, but the homicide rate rose tenfold. Subsequently, between 1937 and 1963, handgun ownership rose by 250 per cent, but the homicide rate fell by 35.7 per cent. Canada and Norway, both with a high percentage of gun ownership, have a lower homicide rate per 100,000 than does the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom had far lower homicide rates in Victorian times – when any man, woman, or child could walk into a shop and buy a gun legally – than in the period since 1920, when it was no longer deemed a right to own a firearm (4).

Another oft-repeated myth is that the sole purpose of a gun is to kill people. This is simply not true. There are between 100 million and 140 million guns in the United States, a third of them handguns. The ratio of people who commit handgun crimes each year to handguns is 1:400 (keep in mind that a handgun crime can involve accidentally walking into an airport with a gun); the ratio of handgun homicides to handguns is 1:3,600. Turning the statistics around, in the United States, well over 99 per cent of guns have never been used in any crime (5).

Also, if the sole purpose of a handgun is to kill people, why don’t gun-control enthusiasts target the guns of the police in order to prevent gun deaths?...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Hate Groups Are Infiltrating the Military, Group Asserts
A decade after the Pentagon declared a zero-tolerance policy for racist hate groups, recruiting shortfalls caused by the war in Iraq have allowed "large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" to infiltrate the military, according to a watchdog organization.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and right-wing militia groups, estimated that the numbers could run into the thousands, citing interviews with Defense Department investigators and reports and postings on racist Web sites and magazines.

"We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," the group quoted a Defense Department investigator as saying in a report to be posted today on its Web site, "That's a problem."...

...The groups are being abetted, the report said, by pressure on recruiters, particularly for the Army, to meet quotas that are more difficult to reach because of the growing unpopularity of the war in Iraq.

The report quotes Scott Barfield, a Defense Department investigator, saying, "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces, and commanders don't remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members."

Mr. Barfield said Army recruiters struggled last year to meet goals. "They don't want to make a big deal again about neo-Nazis in the military," he said, "because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they'll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists."...