Google, Kiddie Porn and the Bill of Rights

I’ve suggested it before, and I’ll suggest it again today. In January, articles first started to surface that the Department of Justice wants to seize Google records in order to chase kiddie porn perps. We aren’t just talking about specific information being subpoenaed to find evidence about some specific alleged wrongdoer, but major fishing expeditions of millions upon millions of records.

Today’s news indicates that all the DoJ wants is a “sample of URLs and search queries”:

The Department of Justice (DoJ) has rejected Google’s assertion that a government subpoena for search data threatens the privacy of Internet users.

“The government has not asked Google to produce any information that would personally identify its users,” according to the DoJ’s response filed Friday in a San Jose court.

Yeah, right. The DoJ is going to look at search strings which indicate that someone may be looking up questionable porn and then not obtain a search warrant for more complete records — and I’ve got some beachfront property in Kansas for sale. But the issue goes deeper than this. What the feds want 1) costs a lot of money and 2) jeopardizes trade secrets. Both of these issues are covered by the 5th Amendment:

…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

It could be fairly easy to establish a reasonable price for the data requested; the Constitution demands it. What would not be so easy is determine the valuation of Google’s trade secrets. This would be a very hefty bill, to be sure.

Instead of trying to find new ways to enforce a law already determined unconstitutional by the courts, perhaps our nannies in DC might just enter a few search strings into Google themselves.

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Pro-Liberty Talk Show Makes the “TALKERS 250″!

Talkers 250
The Talkers 250 is a list of the 250 most important talk shows of 2006. This year, the world’s most pro-Liberty show, Free Talk Live, was included!

This is a major honor in the business, and FTL is receiving it after only a year and a half in syndication! This is because of listeners calling their local talk stations and creating a demand for principled, pro-Liberty talk content by asking for Free Talk Live!

Oh, and if you vote for us in March, it helps drive new people to Liberty!

-FTL_Ian

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Libertarian Ideology Ruins Horror Genre

horror film gun commercial

This actual pro-gun commercial from Totally Awesome Guns & Range in Utah is sure to be an instant viral classic as it portrays how short a horror film would last if the token ditzy blonde was armed to the teeth in the first scene (via SayUncle).

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Zogby: Overwhelming Majority of Troops Favor Withdrawal from Iraq

Kevin Zeese popped me an e-mail this morning with the heads-up about an article he will be publishing later today. It stems from this NYT article by Nicholas Kristoff which indicates that 72% of American troops think they should be withdrawn within a year. For some reason, I can’t access my TimesSelect account at the moment (I’m on the road right now), so I’ll provide the pertinent blockquote from Think Progress:

A new poll to be released today shows that U.S. soldiers overwhelmingly want out of Iraq and soon. The poll is the first of U.S. troops currently serving in Iraq, according to John Zogby, the pollster. Conducted by Zogby International and LeMoyne College, it asked 944 service members, “How long should U.S. troops stay in Iraq?” Only 23 percent backed Mr. Bush’s position that they should stay as long as necessary. In contrast, 72 percent said that U.S. troops should be pulled out within one year. Of those, 29 percent said they should withdraw “immediately.”

According to Zeese, Zogby will be releasing the poll later today. The devil is always in the details, and I don’t yet know the exact wording of the survey questions, how many of the troops polled are reservists or National Guard, how many of them have been deployed to Iraq, etc. These sorts of issues may end up being the spin spouted by the neocons (spoon fed by O’Reilly and Limbaugh, of course). This said, the poll has the potential to become very politically significant over the next few months.

UPDATE: The Zogby results are here. They answer a lot of the questions I asked. Prediction: The hawks will start saying that Marines are “real soldiers” while reservists and National Guard are not.

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The Real Reasons to Hate Wal-Mart

A lot of my favorite libertarian writers spend a lot of time defending Wal-Mart, and rightfully so for the grounds they have chosen. Here are a few examples. From Radley Balko:

Yet more states are passing bills aimed specifically at requiring Wal-Mart to pay for its workers’ health care. Unbelievable. I don’t see how such Wal-Mart-specific legislation can pass constitutional muster. But then, I find it appalling that lawmakers in an allegedly quasi-free market society would tell a private company that it is required by law to give its employees free stuff.

Wal-Mart’s losing on another front, too. More states are requiring the store to cary the morning-after pill on its shelves.

Let me repeat.

State governments are requiring a private business to put a certain product on its shelves.

What next? Why not force Wal-Mart to sell certain books? Why not ban it from selling others? In fact, why don’t these states just set up a regulatory agency to take over the day-to-day operations of Wal-Mart stores inside their borders?

Balko is certainly correct in this case, as he is here, too:

It sure is thoughtful of lefty activists to work so hard to keep Wal-Mart out of urban areas. We can’t have this corporate behemoth exploiting low-income folks with jobs that wouldn’t otherwise exist, and by selling them good stuff at low prices.

The horror.

Better people who are well-employed decide for the urban poor that they don’t need those jobs. And that they should be shopping at more tasteful stores, anyway.

I think that maybe — just maybe — anti-Wal Mart sentiment has more to do with an aversion to the white, rural ethnology the store sometimes represents than its labor practices. We can’t have our Ethiopian restuarants and esoteric bookstores blighted by NASCAR culture.

Sabine Barnhart correctly wrote:

The hate campaign against Wal-Mart reflects the late Weimar Republic Nazi oratory when Hitler’s election slogans were directed against free economy in general and certain prosperous businesses — many of them Jewish owned — in particular. They were deemed “Non-German in their zeal for profit.” Never mind that their reason for being profitable was in their success in catering to the German citizens themselves. Hitler’s dubious grasp, his promises of greater Germany despite the NSDAP’s destructive economic planning do seem to resonate once again.

Laurence Vance provided some good arguments to hate Wal-Mart today:

Good reason #1: Crowds

Good reason #2: Parking

Good reason #3: Carts

Good reason #4: Lines

Good reason #5: Cashiers

Good reason #6: Inventory

Good reason #7: Selection

Good reason #8: Self-checkout registers

Good reason #9: Prices

Good reason #10: Getting Help

If you still prefer the “bad” reasons for not shopping at Wal-Mart then by all means don’t shop at Wal-Mart. Just quit citing your bogus reasons as if they were facts.

He’s correct, up to this point. Then he blows it.

Wal-Mart has never caused any firm to go out of business. Wal-Mart can’t close down any store but one of its own. It is the customers who no longer do business with a company or shop at a particular store who put that company out of business or closed that store.

Despite all of these valid arguments in favor of Wal-Mart’s right to compete in a free market system, the arguments provided start to lose their validity when statements like this are made:

Contrary to popular thinking, Wal-Mart does not drive other retailers out of business: customers do by choosing to patronize a store that does a better job of supplying their wants than do their established competitors.

I can’t speak for the entire country (although I hear of similar cases in other states), but in my state of Alabama, Wal-Mart is the beneficiary of eminent domain and political pay-offs — and they use these tools to gain an edge in the marketplace.

I’d like to quickly describe three Wal-Marts in my community. The first one was in Alabaster. They used eminent domain (and the coercive threat thereof) to kick dozens of people from their homes. From Neal Boortz:

Alabaster City Councilman Tommy Ryals thinks that these property owners are just being greedy. “Sometimes,” he says, ” the good of the many has to outweigh the greed of the few.” Indeed, Councilman Ryals, how dare these private-property owners refuse to sell their private property when the new owner could generate so many tax dollars for the good of the many! Don’t these people realize that the rights of one individual to his property are nothing when the need of the collective is considered?

Vance and Shaffer insist that Wal-Mart does not drive other retailers out of business. However, the planned Wal-Mart in Birmingham’s Crestwood area will be sharing parking lot space with the last remaining K-Mart in town. Here is the kicker. The city plans to give Wal-Mart $11 million taxpayer funded cash dollars to compete with the K-Mart. What sort of principled libertarian could support this sort of deal or not see how it may well drive the K-Mart of out business?

If eminent domain and pay-offs aren’t enough, what happens when the two are combined in the same deal? Just ask the 30 or so business owners who were shut down after Wal-Mart set its eyes on a new location in the Roebuck section of Birmingham. Only one of them actually fought the deal, but he had the cajones to explain why the others didn’t:

Chris Curran, owner of Spuds Pub, told the newspaper that the city has put a gun to owners’ heads. “Anybody who has been signing contracts with Wal-Mart is signing under duress,” Curran said. “That means: Here’s our contract, sign it and if you don’t sign it, we’ll take it. … They (city officials) just want a trophy, and they don’t mind pushing us out of the way to have that trophy.”

Additionally, Wal-Mart got a $10 million dollar tax abatement in that deal. I’m all for tax abatements, but only if all businesses get their fair share. In this case, like many others, Wal-Mart was the only beneficiary.

Libertarians are opposed to the abuse of government force and the threat thereof. The consistent misuse of eminent domain and tax dollars to give one business an advantage over others clearly qualifies as such force.

Since the Iraq War started, it is rare that one would find me disagreeing with Radley Balko and writers at the von Mises Institute and LewRockwell.com while agreeing with Neal Boortz. I’d suggest that libertarian writers check their facts a bit more before making such knee-jerk defenses of Wal-Mart.

UPDATE: The debate is hot and heavy here and here, too.

UPDATE 2: I just spoke with my assistant, and she reports that by a vote of 8-0 (of nine members), the Birmingham City Council just passed the latest $11 million dollar deal for Wal-Mart. The only member who was opposed was sick today. He was given three minutes by speaker phone to address the council, but was not allowed to vote against awarding the contract. This should be a very proud day for all of the Wal-Mart supporting libertarians out there.

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Russmo Tackles Socialized Healthcare

Here’s the latest from Russmo:

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Grannies, Guns, and Government

Julian VanDyke often gets under my skin. I don’t think I am alone in thinking that his combative attitude makes it tough to have true discussion. That attitude is not reserved only for the discussion posts. Recently, in our inboxes, HoT editors received this challenge:

How about it, Hammer of Truth writers. Write something about this or is the only thing you can do is bash the Iraq war and promote pornography? Let’s see some Second Amendment action. Guys like me are really interested in preserving what little freedom we have to buy, sell and own arms of all kinds and descriptions without interference from big brother. Are you interested in this issue or are you hung up on bashing soldiers and our military?

Naturally, he included a tip. February 15th was reserved for the Oversight Hearing of “The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) Part l: Gun Show Enforcement.” This site provides the testimonies of a gun show manager, a former police officer turned gunsmith and an enthusiast. The testimonies, if true, demonstrate that the BATF has completely failed- either by ignorance or irreverence- to uphold its duty as servant of the American people and the constitution we hold dear. That failure reaches past the Second Amendment and actually brings in the First and Fourth as well. see more…

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FDA in violation of Nuremberg Code?

Note: this article contains dead links, the url is still in the hover/alt text. Keep the web working, curate content well!

by Jon Airheart

It was reported on the front page of Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal that despite doctor pleas and 2 fatalities, Northfield Laboratories Inc. has been given the okay by the FDA to continue clinical trials of a blood substitute called PolyHeme. What’s worse is the manner in which the FDA is allowing it.

“The FDA is allowing Northfield to test its blood substitute without the consent of the trauma patients, who often are unconscious.”

With this appalling fact, it would appear that the FDA is in blatant violation of 3 out of the 10 principles of The Nuremberg Code’s Permissible Medical Experiments (http://www.ushmm.org/research/doctors/Nuremberg_Code.htm).

1. The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.

5. No experiment should be conducted where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur; except, perhaps, in those experiments where the experimental physicians also serve as subjects.

9. During the course of the experiment the human subject should be at liberty to bring the experiment to an end if he has reached the physical or mental state where continuation of the experiment seems to him to be impossible.

The number 1 principle is self-explanatory and is the basis for which the studies are not in compliance with number 9. How can someone be at liberty to end an experiment if he/she is not made aware of said experiment?

In addition to 2 fatalities several years ago, 8 of 81 patients who received the fake blood suffered a heart attack within 7 days.
Northfield to this day has never publicly disclosed these results and fails to mention them in newly printed materials. This raises serious questions as to compliance with the number 5 principle.

The FDA has lost all credibility with this recent incident. Are they a part of our servant government or not? Are they accountable to us or not? You can give them a piece of your mind at 1-888-INFO-FDA. Lester Crawford has been the acting commissioner of the FDA since March 2004 and was confirmed the permanent head of the organization on July 17, 2005.

Jon Airheart asked me to publish this guest article for him. The photo (most embarrassing one I could find of him) is of Jon, Jessica Caplan and me and was taken in NYC in 2004.

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Wisconsin: Smoking Bans, Judges Breaking the Law and Ed Thompson Follow-up

It started with this from Homeland Insecurity:

It started with a posting to a conservative Wisconsin political web site in August. And Wednesday the effort to recall Madison, Wis., mayor Dave Cieslewicz, officially began, with volunteers attempting to gather 35,000 signatures over the next 30 days. And the effort is being organized by non-smokers upset over the smoking ban.

While some of Madison’s citizens are fuming over the issue, the fumes got hotter in a Madison courthouse. While the reason for the trial is indeed interesting, the bottom sentence of the following paragraph shows how hit some of the fumes got on the smoking issue:

Today’s testimony followed a hectic Tuesday for jurors. First they went through a four-hour process to select who would serve in the expected three-week trial Then they were forced to evacuate the courtroom of presiding Judge Steven Ebert when fire alarms went off in the new $44 million courthouse. The alarm turned out to be caused by some overheated popcorn in a microwave, the second such popcorn incident and the third fire alarm since the building opened in January. The first time the sensitive alarm system went off came when Judge Michael Nowakowski was sneaking a cigarette in his bathroom in the new building.

As one would expect, there are two standards of justice in America. Most normal citizens would have probably been spanked pretty hard for smoking in a courthouse in America, but the judge didn’t even get his knuckles rapped:

Calls and letters came in to the Madison Police Department asking if Judge Michael Nowakowski got a ticket for smoking in his bathroom at the new Dane County Courthouse, thus setting off a smoke alarm that emptied the building and called in the fire department on Feb. 13.

But it’s the Sheriff’s Office that is in charge of discipline in this situation and spokesperson Elise Schaffer says Capt. Ron Boylan decided not to issue Nowakowski a ticket.

“He did have verbal contact with him and Judge Nowakowski recognized that he made a mistake and mentioned that it won’t happen again,” says Schaffer. “Capt. Boylan stated that’s probably how he’d handle it in any situation.”

It’s a shame the Capital Times didn’t write a full article (that I could find) about the judge getting caught smoking, but at least Rolf pieced it together for me.

Speaking of the Capital Times, it seems they do read HoT from time to time. When asked if he was interested in running, Thompson provided a good quote in their article:

“It’s not true. As of right now, I’m not going to,” Thompson said.

“I am meeting with some people who are trying to convince me it would be a good idea. It would take a lot of convincing. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t, but the best way to bet would be no.”

Thompson said he is immersed in running — and expanding — his business.

“That’s taking a lot of time,” he said.

Thompson also is serving in an elected office at present — the Tomah City Council. He was elected by a write-in vote without even running for the office.

“But Tomah is a lot different from the 3rd District,” he said.

Nevertheless, if he were to seek office again, Congress would be the goal, Thompson said.

“That is the one spot that does interest me, the House. I think there is so much corruption, and I am so sick of the federal government taking our money and going to war. I don’t think we’re getting good representation from either party. We’re so entrenched in the two-party system that we need another voice. I am truly disillusioned with government — period.”

Spoken like a true politician. Actually, that was a better non-answer than most politicians provide.

Not only do they ask the same question we did (will Ed Thompson run for Congress?), they titled their article with Chris Bennett’s comment: “Run, Ed, Run.” I’ll have to read Anita Weier’s articles more often, now that I know she has a reputable source of information :)

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New Mexico County Commissioner Swaps to Libertarian Party

From Austin, Tim and Richard:

On February 24, Paul Edward Trujillo, chair of New Mexico’s Valencia County Commission, changed his registration from “Democrat” to “Libertarian”. He is running for re-election this year and will run as a Libertarian. Question: Is Trujillo the highest level Libertarian currently in elected office?

Congratulations are due to Mr. Trujillo and the New Mexico Libertarians.

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Statewide Smoking Suppression Stopped

According to the Washington Post, Virginia and Maryland have rejected statewide smoking bans. It’s a good sign for liberty when such obvious nanny-statism gets rejected. Delegate David Albo (R-Fairfax) deserves kudos for this comment:

“The problem is, I want to have smoke-free restaurants and businesses. But in America, you don’t pass a law to tell a private business owner who is paying rent or mortgage payments what he can and can’t do in his own place.”

It’s good to see that Virginia and Maryland have refused to become like New Jersey. Of course DC’s ban still lingers as a pool of fascism between the two states mentioned, despite the best efforts of groups like Ban the Ban.

UPDATE: In response to Ian’s request, Delegate David Albo’s website.

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Response to Response to Response to BS

I wrote a while ago about my view (from a female vantage point) of the libertarian movement and I answered Mr. Bice’s concerns from my perspective. He, predictably, ridiculed my position on (nearly) everything. His statements start with:

The Libertarian Party’s disagreement with anti-discrimination laws is probably pretty darn popular in some areas down south. Many areas of the country probably offer niche markets for various types of whites-only establishments, where the “white race” doesn’t have to be bothered with homosexuals, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, etc. Such establishments would feed on existing racism, amplify the tendency and help foster this bigotry.

My whole point was that a person with a true mind for business success would never be a bigot. This idea works with gay/straight, smoking/anti, or even male/female. The idea is that a free open market will not tolerate what is reprehensible, and those of us finding a political home in the Libertarian Party are generally not a tribal sort of group. By nature, we are outside the comfort zone. Which brings me, quite naturally, to the Harry Brown reference

“Harry Browne, Libertarian Party candidate for president in 1996 and 2000, put it this way, ‘freedom from government – on all issues at all times.'” Why would a libertarian believe it was fine for government to restrict businesses from selling drugs. That’s so parental, and libertarians hate parental government actions. If drugs aren’t illegal, why should government have any role whatsoever? I thought the marketplace was were decisions like this were made. I’ve even heard some libertarians argue that Doctors should require licenses to practice, and that everyone should have the power to write prescriptions.

Newsflash!!!!!!(Again) Libertarians do not toe a party line. We have differences of opinion on some things. Harry Browne, who was before my L-time, does not speak for me on every issue. (And truly, I felt that this was not an issue to look up. Lazy night, but I am responding to a lazy argument.) It may seem strange to someone in the habit of regurgitating the party line word for word, but we love that we are different. And, FTR, my husband is a doc. I support standards in that field-but profession regulated standards. Truthfully, I would like to sue him for malpractice because he told me to suck up a hurt foot on a run. Turned out that I had a fracture, but I am not the normal patient- he doesn’t have to order a ton of x-rays to cover his ass with me. That is gov-reg baby. Get them doing unnecessary tests to avoid liability. CYA in today’s climate can be costly.

Katrina- the bitch that slapped the country. Hmmm. Yes, Bice. It was regulation misappropriation of designated cash that drowned NOLA. While the local gov was spending money on fountains and parties, the threat was high. I lived in NOLA from 1973 to 1995. All I ever knew was to get the hell out of town for a cat 4 or better. Go to Phuket and see how they are rebuilding the area. (Dude, I was there in November and I witnessed the (unsafe by US standard) scaffolds and 12 year olds on mopeds weighed down with lumber.) There is something to be said for personal responsibility.

Education choice is not a choice. That Bice pretends that it is- is frankly- silly. The only choice today is to pay for a sub par product- and then pay again.

Perhaps Mr. Bice should leave the party of his parents and step-maybe for the first time- into his own. The LP is not perfect, but we never did pretend to be the only deal out there. We, unlike the others, offer a choice.

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WH Seeking Retroactive Law Allowing Spying

NSA logoTrying to finagle their way out of the latest scandal of possible illegalities in its domestic wiretapping program of U.S. citizens, the Bush administration is now pushing for Congressional approval to retroactively allow for such an unconstitutional program:

After two months of insisting that President Bush did not need court approval to authorize the wiretapping of calls between the United States and suspected terrorists abroad, the administration is trying to resist pressure for judicial review while pushing for retroactive Congressional approval of the program.

Even though the FISA program already allows for delay between when a warrant can be executed and the special court must be notified (one year actually), the administration has repeatedly ignored their obligation to follow even those lax rules. Because… as the truth would have it, the FISA court is stacked with terrorists who would have immediately blown the whole operation.

But the real meat and potatoes here is that the administration wants retroactive Congressional approval of what has already occured (an ex post facto law) — or in very simple terms: a pardon.

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Cartoon’s Fanatic Freakout = Fundie Failure

It seems many cartoonists won’t be cowed by fundamentalist threats and are firing shots back at the fanatics with more editorial cartoons. The most widely used theme seems to be to point out the hypocrisy of the threats. Whereas it’s perfectly acceptable for the religious nutjobs to poke fun at other religions, turnabout is suddenly not so cool with them.

fanatic Islam cartoon

And in related news, the Catholic fanatics in New Zealand tried to boycott that infamous “Bloody Mary” South Park episode… the result was humorous, with viewership increasing over 600 percent.

It seems the lesson fanatics seem unable to learn is that if you don’t like a satirical cartoon of your religion, it’s better off to ignore it or not watch it (hello… earth to self-control). Because venting a spleen and flipping out is only going to make more people point and laugh.

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Unmarried Couples: You Ain’t Welcome in Our Town

Not only can you lose custody of your children for not maintaining the moral standards of the powers-to-be, they can keep you from buying a house, too. Here’s the scoop from Newswatch 50 (via Fark):

A Missouri couple say they were denied an occupancy permit for their new home because they’re not married.

Olivia Shelltrack and Fondray Loving have been together for 13 years and have three children, ages 8, 10 and 15, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

The couple are appealing the occupancy permit denial from the Black Jack, Mo., board of adjustment, which requires people living together to have blood, marriage or adoption ties. Loving is not the father of Shelltrack’s oldest child.

Let’s see. One has to get permission from the government to be married in order to get another permit to live in town. I thought this case was simply about some archaic code which hadn’t been removed from the books until I read this in another account of the story:

The couple appealed the denial of an occupancy permit last week at a hearing before Black Jack’s board of adjustment. Shelltrack said board members asked her and Loving personal questions about their relationship, their children and their previous home in Minneapolis, from where they moved, for nearly an hour. Then the board denied the couple’s appeal. The case now goes before Black Jack’s municipal court.

At the hearing, Shelltrack said, one board of adjustment member, Norma Mitchell, even pointed at her and asked, “I don’t understand why you as a woman didn’t exercise your right to marry that man,” before being hushed by another board member.

Mitchell’s quote explains ia lot, but not everything. The picture at Newswatch 50 shows a white man with two white children. The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch shows a white women with two black children. Both articles state there are only three children involved. In addition to the moral busybodies, is there a racial element involved as well?

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Lego Zen: Cheney, Whittington, and Peppered Quailtards

Via Boing Boing comes this wonderful Flickr photo of someone’s lego-tastic interpretation of Cheney’s sharpshooting hunting mishap:

Cheney/quailtard in lego

Not shown: the parked car that they got out of to walk up to the covey of farm-raised wingless quail-tards. More Cheney quail-tard shooting jokes.

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Christian Judge Blows a Gasket: Woman Loses Child Custody Over Religious Performance Art

Note: this article contains dead links, the url is still in the hover/alt text. Keep the web working, curate content well!

SubGenius X-Day eventThis is an egregious example of encroachment on First Amendment rights no matter how you look at it (via Boing Boing & Bartholomew’s notes on religion:

On February 3, 2006, Judge Punch heard testimony in the case. Jeff entered into evidence 16 exhibits taken from the Internet, 12 of which are photographs of the SubGenius event, X-Day. Kohl has never attended X-Day and is not in any of the pictures. Rachel is depicted in many of these photos, often wearing skimpy costumes or completely nude, while participating in X-Day and Detroit Devival events.

The judge, allegedly a very strict Catholic, became outraged at the photos of the X-Day parody of Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ — especially the photo where Jesus [Steve Bevilacqua] is wearing clown makeup and carrying a crucifix with a pool-noodle dollar sign on it while being beaten by a crowd of SubGenii, including a topless woman with a “dildo”.

Judge Punch lost his temper completely, and began to shout abuse at Rachel, calling her a “pervert, “mentally ill,” “lying,” and a participant in “sex orgies.” The judge ordered that Rachel is to have absolutely no contact with her son, not even in writing, because he felt the pictures of X-Day performance art were evidence enough to suspect “severe mental illness”

Mock Christianity, lose your kid… yeesh.

Here’s a pop-quiz question for all the Christian apologists who are bound to flood into this discussion: If this had taken place before an Islamic judge in the Middle East and the photos had been an art performance mocking the prophet Muhammed; and the judge took custody away from the mother based on that alone… would you also defend that judge?

Update: MeFi’s first comment has a bunch of updates, most importantly links to some of the photos that apparently angered the judge so much. Am I the only one who thinks this is relatively tame considering the reaction of the judge?

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UAE to manage some US ports.

As a knee jerk reaction, I said sure; UAE is buying a British company already managing our ports. But then, I thought about it. I remembered historical war stories which declared our ports as the most strategic points of protection. US control of the ports was essential to our safety in 1776 and we fought dearly to preserve that control. Why, then, would our highest commander (2006) differ in strategy from our most esteemed commander (1776)? Why would we, in a climate of heightened security, allow any bedmate (UK or UAE) to share guard of our treasure? According to Yahoo News,

The administration did not require Dubai Ports to keep copies of business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to court orders. It also did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate U.S. government requests. Outside legal experts said such obligations are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other industries.

It seems that Big Brother only wishes to watch us free Americans. Brother George cares about our safety in the form of wire taps and surveillance, but cares nothing about the deeds of his buddies in the Middle East? Something is amiss here. I am not educated enough on these matters to determine what it is, but I do have that “Oh shit” feeling which has been described as “fight or flight.” My lack of expertise dictates that I leave this a question. My sense tells me that we are too deeply entangled in a Boleyn type quest for control. Some heads will roll, I am sure. I only wonder which heads.

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Eminent Domain, Presidential Style

With all of the recent GOP hype about property rights, what could be more hypocritical than for the Republican president to benefit from eminent domain in the establishment of his presidential library? This may well be the case, according to The New York Sun:

The school favored to host the George W. Bush Presidential Library, Dallas’s Southern Methodist University, may encounter a snag next week in the form of a lawsuit alleging that the school has improperly seized local homes in order to secure land for the proposed library site.

Amid increasing outrage among Republicans over the use of eminent domain and other coercive measures to obtain private property for public projects, a case in Dallas County’s 134th Civil District Court, which is set to begin on Tuesday, will determine whether the university violated its legal obligations to local homeowners in an effort to secure the land currently occupied by the University Gardens condominium complex, a potential library site.

“They’re taking my home,” said Gary Vodicka, one of the litigants and a University Gardens owner and resident, yesterday.

SMU excuses their actions, stating the land deal is unrelated to the presidential library. Whether it is for the library or not, that does not excuse these allegations:

“To acquire the land to build the Bush Library they have breached numerous legal obligations, they’ve intimidated, misrepresented things, kicked old people out of their homes,” said Mr. Vodicka, who owns four units in the complex. “It’s amazing to see how ruthless a Christian university can be.”

There are four schools being considered for the presidential library, and SMU is the favored institution on the list. What really perplexes me is why they need a presidential library in the first place, since all the the material to be contained inside will likely be classified. If something does remain unclassified, one can expect the Homeland Security goons to stop any efforts to retrieve information, anyway.

The next time a Republican tells you he is opposed to eminent domain abuse, simply ask him to explain the actions of his chief elephant.

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Settling in for the “Long War”

With public support for the “War on Terror” flagging, the White House and the Pentagon have a plan. Not to curtail the excesses of the “War on Terror” or to abandon the “benevolent hegemony” they’re buying with the lives of American soldiers, but something much better. They’re changing the name.

The ill-conceived state of perpetual war formerly known as the “War on Terror” will now be known as…wait for it…”The Long War.” That’s right, instead of backing away from the critics who have been making comparisons between the current regime and Big Brother from Orwell’s 1984, the Bush Administration is embracing it. The Pentagon is making 20-year strategic plans and Rumsfeld is publicly comparing the current effort with the Cold War (1946-1991). One of the core elements of the Pentagon strategy is perpetual war.

“Long duration, complex operations involving the US military, other government agencies and international partners will be waged simultaneously in multiple countries round the world, relying on a combination of direct (visible) and indirect (clandestine) approaches,” the report says. “Above all they will require persistent surveillance and vastly better intelligence to locate enemy capabilities and personnel. They will also require global mobility, rapid strike, sustained unconventional warfare, foreign internal defence, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capabilities. Maintaining a long-term, low-visibility presence in many areas of the world where US forces do not traditionally operate will be required.”

Since the Bush Administration sees virtually no limits on what it can do under the auspices of the Commander-in-Chief power, staying in a state of perpetual war will ensure that they are not called to account for the arguably illegal actions committed (and to be committed). Expect the phrase, “But we’re at war,” to be used early and often over the next few decades.

Let’s just get the whole thing over with and burn the “goddamned piece of paper” right now.

War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.

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Feuds, Funerals, Fundies and Free Speech

Fred Phelps, the mind behind godhatesfags.com, is quite possibly the modern living embodiment of George Orwell’s quote “if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” He and his church have become infamous for their shocking-but largely legal-denunciations of homosexuality. Their favorite modus operandi seems to be picketing funerals, as they did with Matthew Shepard.

Their latest gig seems to be picketing funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq. The argument they base these protests on is that America supports homosexuality, therefore every dead soldier is God’s way of telling America to stop supporting homosexuality. The twistedness of this man is unfathomable-I’ve never known any anti-war protester who actively hopes for the deaths of our soldiers. That’s just sick.

Patriotic veteran bikers seem to think so, as well. Organized as the Patriot Guard, they are now going to funerals to support the war’s dead against the protests of Fred Phelps’ church. While mindless flag-waving annoys me, this seems to me a very noble thing to do.

This shows the world that the best antidote to free speech is more free speech. Those who would curtail Fred Phelps’ right to spew bigotry would merely make it harder to protect other forms of free speech. Meanwhile, protecting all free speech lets the moral force of the Patriot Guard be brought to bear against Phelps and his sinful, racist, drug abusing, immoral lot.

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It Still Reeks of Eminent Domain

The New York Times is reporting about a rash of state legislation and constitutional amendments designed to decrease eminent domain abuse thoughout the country:

The measures are in direct response to the United States Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision last June in a landmark property rights case from Connecticut, upholding the authority of the City of New London to condemn homes in an aging neighborhood to make way for a private development of offices, condominiums and a hotel. It was a decision that one justice, who had written for the majority, later all but apologized for.

The reaction from the states was swift and heated. Within weeks of the court’s decision, Texas, Alabama and Delaware passed bills by overwhelming bipartisan margins limiting the right of local governments to seize property and turn it over to private developers. Since then, lawmakers in three dozen other states have proposed similar restrictions and more are on the way, according to experts who track the issue.

What they seem to be ignoring is that some of these bills do relatively nothing to stop such eminent domain abuse. As I live there, let’s use Alabama as an example. Shortly after the Kelo decision, Alabama passed a supposedly tough new eminent domain law. However, it was primarly an act of political grandstanding. Here is the view of the largest independent newspaper in the state:

The term “blighted” is a loophole in Alabama’s new private property protection law big enough to drive a bulldozer through, says an attorney who lost a landmark case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Alabama is doing the right thing in taking a great first step,” said Dana Berliner, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm based in Washington, D.C. “Now Alabama needs to take the second step to tighten sections of the law that deal with blight.”

To be sure, there is already another land taking brewing in Birmingham. In what appears to be the beginnings of a major redevelopment in town, step one involves the city paying Wal-Mart $11,000,000 in tax revenue from the general fund (which is to be later repaid with bond money) to move into a mostly vacated mall. I went over the paperwork presented so far with one of the city counselors and there are a lot of unanswered questions, so far. The contract leaves more questions to be asked than it answers, including vagueness which could cost the city millions more.

This appears to be step one in the larger development scheme being worked behind the scenes. We are working on obtaining as much information as possible though the Open Records Act, but it is unlikely that the requested material will arrive in time to develop enough political opposition to fight the immediate issues. In a recent town hall meeting, city planners presented an area which is a combination small and larger store fronts (of which the new Wal-Mart will serve as the hub), residential areas and major thouroughfares. They described plans which would reroute roads, add parks, and totally modify the landscape of the area. Unless 100% of the property owners involved will willingly give up their homes and businesses, eminent domain (or the extortive threat thereof) will have to be used.

The mayor said the votes are already there to shove the Wal-Mart down our throats against our will. However, we managed to defeat the proposal in committee yesterday, which will probably only delay it hitting the full council by one week.

When the issue was forced on them, the mayor and the city councilperson pushing this agenda denied that eminent domain would be used. When I asked the question, it seemed to draw greater applause than anything thing else during the presentation, but the local paper seemed to omit this from their account of the meeting. However, this same councilperson used eminent domain (and gave away 10,000,000 taxpayer dollars) to build another Wal-Mart in her district a few years ago. Even the current contract before the city council has phrases imbedded in it like “…the Redevelopment Property will result in the elimination, remedy and prevention of blight and blighting factors in the project area…” and “…and will advance and implement the purposes of the Oporto-Crestwood Plan, and, accordingly, is a public use, is in the public interest…”. Future contracts dealing with future phases of this plan will certainly be scarier.

Where I come from, we know that if it looks like shit, smells like shit, and tastes like shit, we ain’t a gonna step in it — despite what The NY Times, mayor of Birmingham, or certain city counselors have to say about it.

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Good for the Gander, Too

The bad news comes from the Seattle
Post-Intelligencer
:

Houston’s police chief on Wednesday proposed placing surveillance cameras in apartment complexes, downtown streets, shopping malls and even private homes to fight crime during a shortage of police officers.

“I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?” Chief Harold Hurtt told reporters Wednesday at a regular briefing.

The good news comes from Matt Asher:

Harold Hurtt has suggested that surveillance cameras be placed “in apartment complexes, downtown streets, shopping malls and even private homes”, according to this story in the Seattle Post Intelligencer. In response, I hereby found….

The Hurtt Prize

The Hurtt Prize is a $1185 (and growing) reward for the first person who can provide definitive videotaped evidence of Houston police chief Harold Hurtt committing a crime, any crime. This evidence will posted here and forward to the Houston Police Department along with a demand that action be taken.

If I lived in Houston, I’d be out there with my camera already. Even if he’s not breaking the law, I’d hope to capture everything from Hurtt spilling soup on his tie to the sexual peccadilloes in which he might engage.

Props.

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